Draft : : Story
Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Manaea-Windle lives up to billing

Patrick Ebert        
Photo: Perfect Game

MINNEAPOLIS – More than 500 people braved the harsh Minneapolis temperatures on Friday night to watch baseball in the warm cocoon of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.  All those in attendance were treated, not only to a respite from the frigid cold, but to a hot matchup bewteen a pair of left handed pitchers in what ended as a 2-1 victory for the visiting Indiana State Sycamores.  At least 50 of the attendees represented Major League Baseball's scouting community as the seats behind home plate included numerous cross-checkers and scouting directors.

The game pitted Indiana State's Sean Manaea, currently ranked No. 1 among Perfect Game's top draft-eligible prospects, against Tom Windle (ranked 44th) and the Minnesota Golden Gophers. This contest has been circled on the calendar since the 2013 schedules were released last fall with hopes that the two pitchers would face one another. Needless to say, both players stepped up to the big stage with impressive, complete game performances.

It was the first complete game in Manaea's college career, who was coming off an impressive performance over a hard-hitting Mercer team the week before in which he struck out eight batters in six innings of work. In that game, Manaea peaked at 95 mph with his fastball in cold and damp conditions, allowing only two runs on three hits, two of which were described as “bleeders” by the Perfect Game scouts in attendance.

I hate pitching in the cold,” Manaea said after the game about pitching in the cozy confines of the Metrodome. “It's probably the worst thing. Coming here and having nice conditions, and actually sweating while pitching, was big for me.”

Manaea, at 6-foot-5, 235-pounds, looks every part of a future staff ace. In this particular game he once again peaked at 95 mph, working at 92-94 in the early innings before settling in around 91 mph in the later frames. He did peak at 94 in the eighth inning, proving that he has the ability to reach his top velocity deep into games, even if he doesn't currently sustain it.

And his low three-quarters delivery, somewhat reminiscent of Randy Johnson's, makes his fastball look even harder out of the hand while pitching on a downhill plane and getting full extension from his 6-foot-5 frame.

His low-80s slider didn't look its' best, but it was still a very effective pitch with short, sharp break in on the hands of right-handed batters. He also threw a handful of changeups in the early innings, but decided to stick to his fastball-slider combo which led to nine strikeouts.

I threw (my changeup) the first couple of innings and they hit two pretty high fly balls, so me and Coach (Rick Heller) decided not to throw it,” Manaea said. “I was leaving it up a little bit. I felt that there wasn't as big of a speed differential between my fastball as it has been, so I went fastball, slider the rest of the game.”

While his changeup wasn't at its' best on this day, the progression of his secondary stuff, and increased velocity on his fastball, led to Manaea's eye-opening performance on the Cape last summer which led to him being named Perfect Game's
Summer Player of the Year. There, Manaea posted “video game” numbers: 5-1, 1.22 ERA, 85 strikeouts, 7 walks and 21 hits allowed in 51 2/3 innings of work.

His stuff matched the results, working regularly at 93-96 and peaking at 98 mph, mixing in his sharp slider and usually polished, fading changeup. He was named the
top prospect in the league, the same distinction he had the year before in the Prospect League.

Manaea's overall progression has been particularly impressive. In July of 2009 at the 18u National Championship he peaked at 86 mph pitching for the Hammond Chiefs while in high school. The size was there, as was the easy arm action, so it was simply a matter of growth and commitment to improvement.

I didn't work out in high school,” Manaea said in answer to the reason for his dramatic improvement. “Coming to Indiana State they had a workout regimen that was really big for me. Throwing a lot more, I didn't throw long toss in high school, I just threw 90 feet. The long-toss program and working out has been the big reason for the jump in velocity.”

The best part about his development is that it's easy to envision him to continue to improve given the ease of his delivery. And he doesn't have hurdles like bad command to overcome, as he pounded the strike zone and attacked the Minnesota hitters in this game. 87 of the 111 pitches he threw were for strikes, which also allowed him to go the distance.

I felt like I was getting a lot of quick outs in this game,” Manaea said. “The first couple of games I thought I was laboring a little, like everybody (early in the season). Today I was getting one pitch outs and it felt really nice (to finish the game).

Coach (Heller) came out and he told me (he was sticking with me) and my adrenaline shot up and I was ready to go after the next guy. I'm just glad he let me finish out the game. It was a nice team win.”

The first hit Minnesota recorded off of Manaea was a bunt single by Dan Olinger. The second hit he allowed was a weak tapper off the bat of catcher Kurt Schlangen that knocked off of Manaea's glove and away from the second baseman behind him.

It was clear the Minnesota team as a whole decided to take as many pitches early hoping for an early exit for the fire-balling southpaw. With Manaea pounding the strike zone, the Gophers had to alter their approach, and were only able to scratch one run across the plate, an unearned run in the seventh inning.

The run scored when Olinger was hit by a pitch, advanced to third on a bad pickoff attempt, and scored on a soft flare to right field off the bat of third baseman Ryan Abrahamson. All of which occurred with two outs.

The hardest hit ball hit off of Manaea was a fly out hit deep to left-center off the bat of shortstop Michael Handel in the fourth inning.

Things did get interesting in the bottom of the ninth inning.  
Down 2-1, Minnesota loaded the bases after catcher Kurt Schlangen and Dan Olinger hit singles that found holes in the infield. Designated hitter Alex LaShomb drew the only walk Manaea would issue in the game with two outs, putting Schlangen 90 feet away from tying the game. After no strike was called with two strikes on a check swing by right fielder Troy Larson, Manaea skipped a slider in the dirt. Both Manaea and Schlangen charged home, with the home plate umpire calling Schlangen out after Manaea received the throw at the plate from his own catcher, Mike Fitzgerald.

It was a controversial way to end the game, as Schlangen appeared to be safe, but Indiana State fans would argue that game should have been over the pitch before. Manaea recorded the win, but didn't walk away unscathed.

Crazy ninth inning. I jumped up and down in celebration and rolled my ankle a little bit. Hopefully it will be better tomorrow.”

The injury isn't serious as Manaea walked in the tunnels of the Metrodome with ice wrapped around his ankle.

I was a little nervous at first because I haven't really been in that situation before,” Manaea said of the trouble he ran into in the ninth inning with a one run lead. “After I got that first out I kind of calmed down.

The second out was really big for me. When the runner got on second after I walked a guy it kind of got under my skin, but I told myself to put it back in my head and go after the next guy.”

Manaea's pickoff move is one noticeable area of his game that needs work. He holds his leg for an extended period of time as part of his windup, and it can be argued that when he brings his leg down on throws to first base his body is moving toward home plate. This was most evident late in the game as the fans, and Minnesota Head Coach John Anderson, loudly lobbied for a balk call.

The exaggerated leg raise alone is effective, as it prevented the Minnesota base-runners from getting good leads off of first base. And if this is the biggest problem with his overall game, he's in pretty good shape.

Windle was coming off an even more impressive performance
as he took the mound opposite the highly touted Indiana State hurler. The week prior Windle tossed a no-hitter against Western Illinois, issuing only one walk while striking out eight batters.

He picked up where he left off, once again going the distance against the Sycamores using an impressive three-pitch repertoire that included a 91-93 mph fastball in the early innings, a sharp, short-breaking low-80s slider and an improving changeup. His velocity dipped to 87-89 in the mid- to late-innings, but he did peak at 90 in the seventh.

His command was impressive, as he too threw a lot of strikes (74 of 114 pitches).

Yeah, I'm happy with how I pitched,” Windle said after the game. “Coming into games like these you just have to take it like another game. Going up against Sean Manaea that was a battle, but it was just another game. If any pitcher pitches to their strengths than they can have a good outing.”

Tom Windle nearly matched Sean Manaea pitch-for-pitch.
Pitching to contact seems to be an area of strength for Windle. Fourteen of the outs he recorded were on ground balls, as he showed the ability to pitch in on the hands of right handed batters to induce weak contact. He only struck out one batter in the game, something that could change once he continues to grow confidence in his fastball.

I'm pretty comfortable throwing (my slider) at any moment,” Windle said of his three-pitch repertoire. “Sometimes I felt I was throwing (it) a little low today, but I made some adjustments. I felt comfortable with my changeup too. That's a feel pitch and that felt good. Just being confident is probably the biggest key to pitching.”

Last year Windle entered the season as the team's Saturday starter behind ace T.J. Oakes. A shoulder injury early in the season caused him to miss significant time, and when he regained his health later in the spring he was placed in the team's bullpen.

After going 3-5, 3.27 in 18 appearances a year ago, four of which were starts, Windle is now 2-2, 1.69 on the year, striking out 20 in 32 innings of work while allowing only 19 hits and 8 walks.

He did finish the 2012 season strong, and carried that success to the summer, being named
PG's No. 14 prospect on the Cape. He was named the No. 11 prospect in the Northwoods League the summer before.

I think I'm just throwing to my strengths,” Windle said of his progression from 2012 to this year. “Getting healthy helped a lot. I always knew I was throwing well, but (toward) the end of the spring I was throwing well and I took that to the summer. I think I have the confidence and the ability to pitch.”

Drafted in the 28th
 round by the White Sox coming out of high school in the 2010 draft, Windle wasn't fully committed to baseball prior to stepping onto Minnesota's campus. The 6-foot-4, 
215-pound Windle was also an accomplished hockey player, whose two-sport schedule made it difficult for him to participate and be seen on a national level.

Like Manaea, his athleticism is evident on the mound. Windle employs more of an over-the-top delivery, with clean, repeatable mechanics. He changes speeds well and is able to move the ball around the zone. On this day, Windle's slider was sharper than Manaea's, and was the main reason we was able to induce so many ground balls. It's not a true swing-and-miss offering, but it is one hitters have difficulty squaring up.

Indiana State scored single tallies in both the fourth and sixth innings.

In the fourth, center fielder Landon Curry was hit by a pitch to lead off the frame. He moved to third on a flare to right field off the bat of designated hitter Cody Zimmerman, and came home to score on a sacrifice fly by Fitzgerald.

Indiana State's second run came in the sixth on a throwing error by Schlangen on a double steal, allowing Curry, who reached on a fielder's choice, to score again.

Windle didn't labor through either inning, and none of the balls were hit particularly hard off of him. And just when it seemed as though he may have been running out of steam, he demonstrated his
perseverance by getting out of a pair of late inning jams.

After giving up a hard, leadoff single to Indiana State shortstop Tyler Wampler to open the eighth, Windle struck out the next batter swinging on a slider, then induced a weak ground ball to Olinger at first base to begin a 3-6-3 double play.

In the ninth he induced another double-play ball after walking the leadoff batter, Fitzgerald.

Windle allowed only two runs, only one of which was earned, off of four base hits and a walk.

I think that was the limit for today,” Windle said of him taking the mound in the ninth. “I think they trusted that I could keep the team in the game for that last inning to get that run in the ninth.

(Coach Anderson) just asked how I felt and I said I felt good. I didn't want to come out of the game.”

Despite taking the hard-luck loss, Windle recognized the intensity on the field.

It was a good game and just a good battle out there.”

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