On the mound

A’s up-and-comer Sean Manaea values his time at State for developing him as an athlete.

One of just two players from Indiana State to ever be selected in the first round of Major League Baseball’s amateur draft, Sean Manaea is considered to be a building block of the Oakland A’s pitching staff after putting together a successful rookie campaign in 2016.

Sean Manaea (Photo by Robert Binder/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

But only six years earlier, Manaea wasn’t garnering much notice. Indiana State, in fact, was the only Division I team to offer the 6-foot-5 left-hander a scholarship during his senior season at Andrean High School.

“I took a visit to the campus, loved it and after that I signed in November as a late senior signing. To me it was the right choice, and I was really happy with how things turned out,” said Manaea, who grew up about three hours north of Terre Haute in Wanatah.

Manaea (pronounced muh-NYE-uh) led an improving Sycamores squad with 82 strikeouts in 15 starts as a freshman in 2011 and followed that up by fanning 115 in 17 starts as a sophomore in 2012.

In the summer of 2012, Manaea turned the corner with an MVP showing in the Cape Cod League, a high-profile summer league for collegiate players. After setting an Indiana State record by posting a 1.47 ERA in 13 starts as a junior, Manaea was drafted 34th overall by the Kansas City Royals.

Only one former Sycamores player — catcher Bill Hayes, who was drafted 13th overall by the Chicago Cubs in 1978 — had gone higher than Manaea, who received a $3.55 million bonus for signing with Kansas City.

“It just seemed like every year I got better and better,” said Manaea of his time at State. “Sophomore year was better, junior year was really good. I had a hip injury, but I pitched pretty well.

“It was definitely a very slow progression going from high school to college, but I was always headed in the right direction, and I feel like I got a lot of those values from high school and college.”

Manaea quickly learned there is a business side of professional baseball. After beginning his career in Kansas City’s minor-league system in 2014, he was traded to Oakland on July 28, 2015 as part of a deal for Ben Zobrist.

“At the time, it was very difficult,” said Manaea. “That day I didn’t know what to think. I wasn’t mad; I was more frustrated.”

(Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics)

The Royals went on to win the World Series, but Manaea found himself on the fast track with the A’s. After just 11 starts in the minors, he made his major-league debut on April 29 this past season against the Houston Astros.

Manaea recorded his first victory on May 16, and by the end of the season his 24 starts and 144 2/3 innings were second-most on the team. He finished with a 7-9 record and 3.86 ERA, and his 124 strikeouts led the staff.

“I don’t know if it was a better opportunity or not (in Oakland), but I’m just happy with how they’re treating me and that they believe in me and think I’m capable of pitching at the big-league level,” said Manaea, who turned 25 on Feb. 1.

“I just tried to make sure I was taking something away from each game. I feel like I ended the season on a strong note and I was real happy with how my first season turned out,” he said. “I can’t thank the A’s organization enough for giving me the opportunity to pitch.”

While he’ll always be a Midwesterner at heart, Manaea has recently moved to Scottsdale, Ariz., which is about a 15-minute drive from Oakland’s spring-training complex.

Making the trek with him was 2015 Missouri Valley Conference softball player of the year Megan Stone. The pair met while playing at Indiana State, and their relationship is now three years strong.

“She had a really good career at Indiana State, and it was fun because I got to watch her play while I was playing too,” Manaea said of Stone, who joined the Sycamores’ coaching staff for a year after wrapping up her playing career in 2015.

“That was nice. She’s a little more athletic than me at different things, so it’s nice having that around. It’s just fun being around her. Everything’s going great. She’s another Indiana State alum who’s had a great career.”

Manaea was one of three Indiana State alumni called up to the majors last season, bringing the total to six. He’s the 27th in all.

“I take pride in where I come from,” he said. “It’s awesome knowing that they’re taking steps in the right direction, and to see how far the program has come in the past few years.

“I feel like I made the right choice going to Indiana State. It was everything I wanted — they believed in me and they trusted in me and they wanted to see me grow. I feel like I made a really good decision.”

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