Sean Isaac wears a bit of a chip on his shoulder in the best way possible. He pitched in the Angels backyard at Vanguard University, putting up great numbers and attracting the attention of scouts. A couple of times a month he would head to the Big A with a couple of friends and hope for his chance to join the MLB ranks.
Between being a senior with little negotiating leverage and playing for an NAIA school, he dropped to the 35th round before being selected by Billy Eppler and the Angels. So, while being very personable and polite, he carries an evident desire to prove that school size and 34 plus rounds of draft position don’t mean a thing if the player can get the job done.
Last year saw Isaac bounce from the Arizona League all the way to AAA Salt Lake City and end in High A Inland Empire. All told he pitched for three different teams last year and has donned the uniforms of five different Angels affiliates in his two year professional career.
Sean was nice enough to take some time to talk with me as he was getting an early start on his way to Tempe.
You are getting to Tempe on February 20th. Is that when minor league camp starts or do pitchers and catchers get there early?
“Pitchers and catchers report for minor league on March 3rd. I’m heading out there early. I did an off season weighted ball program and I’m going to continue it a little bit out there. But the hope is if I come in pretty ready to go if any of those big league guys are a little behind or hurt, I can fill in as needed. That’s a possibility.”
The weighted ball program. That is what Blake Parker did last year, right?
And have you noticed any difference when you are throwing a regular ball now?
“Yeah. With any weighted ball program there’s highs and there’s lows. You’re putting your arm through a lot of stress in a short period of time. But I do notice I feel more athletic and aggressive throwing the ball, if that makes any sense.
How does a weighted ball program work? Are there different balls of different weights?
“What you do is you basically go with balls of different weights. There are some that are going to be heavier than a regular baseball. There are some that are lighter than a regular baseball.
The theory is that you strengthen your arm with the heavier weights and then you speed up your arm with the lower weights so by the time you get back to regular baseballs your arm is not only stronger but you’re moving faster.”
You really bounced around last year. Did you meet everyone in the Angels organization ha ha?
“What I did was rack up the frequent flyer miles ha ha. If you would have told me I’d be doing that last year during Spring Training I probably would have told you you were crazy but that’s the weird thing about trying to climb the ladder in minor league baseball. You never know what’s going to happen or what team needs who.
I just kind of rolled with the flow. I did my best wherever they asked me to be. You can’t control certain things and if they asked me to be somewhere then I got off the plane and I did the best I could.”
How does that work? Do the Angels have housing set up for you when they move you around? Do you bunk with somebody you know?
“It depends where you’re at. During my time in Burlington, Iowa with the Bees they have host families. When you first get to a new city for the first three days, the Angels will put you up in a hotel so you have three days to get yourself situated and figure out a living situation.
When I was with Inland Empire and the Salt Lake Bees after those three days in the hotel it’s either guys on the team have an apartment I can move into, share the expenses, and basically just go from there.”
So you’ve probably played with about everybody in the Angels organization by now, right?
“Ha. Yeah. It’s pretty crazy just going from my rookie year and you think you know a lot of people and you really don’t, to be honest. Last year being my first Spring Training, obviously I met a lot of new people and there were still people I hadn’t met at the higher levels.
Being able to go on all these teams and have games under my belt under all these coaches, gel with new players, I definitely met a lot of new people and I’ve got a good feel for the organization.”
As far as the the coaching staff goes, I’ve read that you are working on a split finger fastball. Is that still the case?
“Yes, that’s the case.”
And Nagy is known for being a master of the sinker type pitches. Have you worked with him much?
“I haven’t on a personal level, no. I messed around with a sinker in college ball and I’m one of those guys who is kind of a perfectionist so if I don’t see results to my liking I’m going to keep going and keep pounding until it drives me crazy. So I had to try something different and that’s why I tried to introduce myself to a split fingered fastball just to give hitters a different look between my fastball and my slider.
It’s a work in progress but I’m definitely happy where I’m at.”
You played your college ball at Vanguard. Is that what got you on the Angels radar and did you know they were scouting you in college?
“I was a junior college transfer and my junior year kind of put my name out there. I had a pretty good year. And then my senior year I had kind of high expectations for myself and really tried to put myself over the edge.
And coming from a small school like Vanguard you have to put up consistent numbers and be something kind of out of the ordinary for people to look at you. And not only myself, my team mates. Jose Rojas and I were both able to do that for two years together.”
Having now played at so many levels, do you see a big talent jump from one level to the next and what do you think really separates a low level guy and a high level guy?
“I would say their consistency in their craft. And what I mean by that is their day in and day out routines about how they go about their business whether that’s on field stuff or in the weight room or position players getting in the cage early, working on their stuff or pitchers staying out on the field after BP and getting some work in.
I would just say what I saw was more consistency with the little things. A low A player might come to the yard one day have a great day at the field, have a great game and then the next day come in an hour later because he had a great game. The older guy, the guy at the next level will be there day in and day out at 11 am with his routine, going through his business and making sure he’s ready for the next game.”
Do you have any idea where you will start this year or are you showing up to Spring Training and just seeing where it goes?
“I have my own personal idea of where I want to be and where I hope to be. Last year, obviously, I got to pitch at different levels and I had some success at each stop so I basically proved that I can pitch at any level at any given time.
But realistically I’d like to go to Spring Training, throw well, and start off in Double A with the Mobile Bears.”
You did pitch well, and I’m only bringing this up because of the Mark Appell story about how bad it is to pitch in Lancaster, but your one bad game was in Lancaster. What makes it so tough to pitch in Lancaster?
“You know, when people were telling me on the bus ride up there that it is probably the hardest place to pitch I thought ‘well maybe those guys just had a bad game and it’s all in their head and it’s not really a bad place to pitch. It is just another field.’
I don’t know what, exactly, it is about that place because going into that game I felt fine but it feels like any time they get something going, like a few bloop hits, the ball just doesn’t seem to find our guys’ gloves.
I don’t know, the ball does sail there, but there is something about that place where the ball does its own thing and it always seems to favor the offensive team.”
Thanks for all the baseball insight, but now let’s focus on you a little bit. What do you like to do when you are away from the ballpark?
“I’m a SoCal kid, I was born and raised in SoCal so a lot of my time is at the beach. I’m a beach kid at heart. I grew up there. My high school was just a few minutes away from the ocean so we’d get out of practice early, go down to the beach, grab a pizza, and hang out. Play volleyball on the sand, play football on the sand.
I’m a pretty low key guy. I like to be around people who keep me in a good state of mind and good friends and family.”
There’s one thing that Cam Bedrosian started years ago and now everyone gets asked this question: Five Guys or In-N-Out?
“Just being a SoCal kid and growing up with it I have to go with In-N-Out.
Five Guys, don’t get me wrong it’s a great place and I do like their burgers and I do like their fries. But there’s something about going to In-N-Out and getting 2 or 3 Double Doubles for maybe 10 bucks and you go to Five Guys and you get the same thing for about 30.
Is there anything in general you’d like people to know about you?
“I would just say, um, I know when I first got drafted in ‘16 I read an article and I don’t know where, I don’t know which website, but it was from an Angels site and was basically just saying ‘who is this kid from this small school, blah blah blah.’
The only thing I’d like people to know is guys from small schools who get opportunities are there for a reason. Basically just be patient with them.
Myself, I’m not a top 100 prospect I’m not on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100, all that stuff, but at the end of the day any guy in the organization, especially with the Angels, we work our butt off day in and day out to be there.
So just be patient with us guys you may have never hoeard of or from a school you may have never heard of.”
As a small town guy I can definitely appreciate that. Thanks so much for your time Sean and good luck in Spring Training. I’ll try to find you so I can shake your hand and thank you in person.
“Thanks. That’d be great.”
Another quality guy in the Angels system. Please leave any questions or comments below. Sean will be sent a link and see them.