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Interview with Yankees pitching prospect Sean Boyle, part one

In the first of a two-part interview, Boyle discusses his evolution as a pitcher in the Yankees’ organization.

New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays
Sean Boyle
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Sean Boyle was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 25th round of the 2018 amateur draft out of Dallas Baptist University. Since then, the right-handed pitcher has ascended the ranks of the minor leagues, including pitching at all four full-season affiliates in 2021, and is now in the starting rotation of the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. Following a strong 2022 split between Double-A and Triple-A, in which he went 13-5 with a 3.71 ERA and 160 strikeouts in 155.1 innings, the 26-year-old Boyle is now mentioned among the Yankees’ better pitching prospects, appearing on both FanGraphs’ and MLB Pipeline’s lists of the top prospects in the organization.

I had the privilege of speaking with Sean the day after his April 16th home start against the Syracuse Mets, and in the first part of this interview he was good enough to address questions about a range of topics, including minor league travel and scheduling, the development processes of the Yankees organization, his repertoire, his most recent performance, and his college experience.

How do you feel physically the day after you pitch?

Usually, I feel pretty damn good the day after. I’m more of a day-two kind of soreness guy. Today, I’m a little sore. But overall, I haven’t done much at all today other than travel, so it’s tough to tell. I definitely feel better now than I did this morning at seven waking up getting ready for the bus and all that.

Does traveling the day after you pitch make it worse?

Yeah, probably the biggest thing is just making sure you get enough sleep. And occasionally after an outing I’m just wired, especially being a starter, you just get that one day a week and all that energy builds up and then you just have that big dump of energy. Sometimes it doesn’t quite dissipate, so yesterday was one of those nights where it took a little longer to settle in and go back to sleep, even though it was an early game, and then an early wake-up call didn’t help. So I’m going to attribute feeling a little crappy to that, but I can’t complain. It’s good.

How has travel changed as you’ve gone from level to level throughout your career?

I’d say it’s pretty similar. I mean, I feel like the further you go, the more stuff the team ends up traveling with in general, and the staff, like the support staff, coaching and all that, you get more hands with the team. So that’s probably the biggest difference. But aside from that, I’ve only flown in Triple-A. Other than that, it’s always usually two buses, and maybe in the lower levels instead of getting two buses, everybody gets jammed on the one.

How do you feel about the Tuesday-through-Sunday schedule?

Thankfully, I didn’t have to spend too long doing the “play every day and hope for an offday” kind of deal. But from my experience with the six-day, it’s been incredible. You know that you’re getting a Monday off. It really sets up well, just having that sort of stability. Just talking to different coaches and players who have spent some time with this crazy schedule in the past, it’s pretty clear to see that this is a much better system for everybody.

If you start once a week, do you have a day that you prefer to pitch? Do you want to pitch as soon as you can in the series? Or does it matter to you?

You know, probably pitching sooner in the series, in my opinion, is more challenging just because you don’t get to spend a couple of days evaluating these teams and see their lineup and just how certain guys go about their business. So I’m gonna say that earlier in the week can be more challenging. Pitching later in the week is helpful when you see all these guys and you have time to put together a plan.

Then again, sometimes you may think, “Okay, first game of the week, [I] can come out and surprise these guys because they’re coming off a travel day or something.” It goes either way, but I’m going to err on the side of earlier in the week being a little more challenging on the scouting side of things.

What does advanced scouting look like in Triple-A? Are you given a lot of information, or do you have to seek it out yourself?

I think across the board, the Yankees do a really good job at arming their players and providing the tools and the knowledge to go out there and be successful. Not only the things that each player does that they should know, but what does it look like when now you’re faced with competing? I think they do a really good job breaking down guys’ approaches.

There are five or six charts for each hitter that if I want to go and just check them out, I can see where they hit really well against fastballs, where their hard contact is, where weak contact is. Those are probably the two biggest ones I think most guys would seem to gravitate towards. Just being able to pick apart per pitch where these guys are hitting it hard or not.

I haven’t experienced anything outside of the Yankees, but from teammates who have left, either traded or signed with somebody else, they’re like, “It’s nuts.” Night and day how much better the Yankees are compared to other organizations, which I thought was very cool. It means a lot to come up with an organization like this, because I feel confident in things I’m doing, hearing it from people who see the other side of things.

What does the post-start feedback look like? Do you have to seek out coaches? Do they come to you?

At the lower levels, it’s definitely less structured, and I’m not exactly sure how that went about. But I’ve noticed, in Double-A and especially Triple-A, the post-outing reviews are pretty much, “Hey, let me know when’s a good time to get with you. We’ll go through this and we’ll put together a plan for your next bullpen and how to attack your next outing.”

I definitely had that at the lower levels, but I think maybe the maturity of the players—even myself—at that lower level, it’s like you have your outing, and then you just go on with your business. And now I get done with an outing, and I don’t want to overlook it, but I’m definitely digging into these things more than I used to. And I think it’s the same on the staff side of things. Being that today’s a travel day, I had plenty of time to go through and watch each pitch of the outing and just kind of pick apart the ones that I didn’t like, the ones I did like, and now I’ve got a few things I’d like to bring to the table tomorrow in postgame meetings.

How many defined or distinct pitches would you say you have?

I would say four: sinker, slider, cutter, and changeup. There’s definitely times where I’ve had the feeling that I can make my slider go more down on the plate. And there are times in that same outing I feel like I can separate that and have a pitch go more horizontally, but, yeah, clean cut four pitches is the final answer.

I’ve read an interview with you where you said your slider is your bread and butter. When did you start throwing your slider? And maybe how did that move to the front of the line?

Yes, so it definitely has been the pitch that’s gotten me this far. And the rest of the pitches are just meant to kind of hold the slider up and complement it. But I’ve always thrown a slider.

I really struggled with the breaking ball going all the way back to high school. Then I just managed to learn essentially a bullet-spin slider, like just get the axis, point it right at the batter. Just grip it and rip it. It would typically just go down with maybe a little bit of glove-side movement. And I threw that until spring training of 2021. Then, about a week or two weeks into spring training our pitching coordinator is watching me throw a bullpen and says, “Let me see your slider grip.” I show it to him and he said, “I don’t like that.” I was just like, “Oh, crap.”

Here I am, 24 and I’ve never made a full-season affiliate and he’s telling me that he doesn’t like my go-to pitch. This is not going to be good. So he showed me a different grip. He told me, “Hold it like this and throw it like a curveball.” I was like, “Alright, I’ll give it a shot.” And thankfully, that pitch clicked immediately.

I started throwing it shaped exactly the way they wanted. I’d say it took me about a week to get it to the point where I was confident. My old slider on a good day was maybe five inches of sweep or glove-side movement and the new slider that they taught me, a bad one would be like 12 inches of sweep. So I was trying to figure out how to make a focal point, where I’m looking to throw it and where it actually goes. That’s how I like to gauge where I’m throwing my pitches. To make that adjustment with my eyes took about a week, like I said, but thankfully it was something that I could pretty much hit the ground running with. And 2021, that was kind of one of the biggest years for my development, the start of what’s gotten me to where I’m at now.

You pitched yesterday, and I don’t want to choose words for you, but it seemed like an annoying start. What did you think?

My pregame bullpen, I was very happy with. I felt really good with where my slider was, and then I came into that first inning and while throwing my slider in the game, it felt like it wasn’t doing what it should be doing. And then looking at some video with some data afterwards, I found out that it was definitely not doing what it was supposed to be doing.

So in areas where I was trying to start the pitch and have it move away, it was really just starting and ending in that spot. So there were a couple of times where it may appear to be like a couple paper cuts, like some screwdrivers they get through or some where they’re reaching out. They were an aggressive team, they’ve seen me earlier in the week, but I definitely feel like it came down to something that changed early in the game that left my pitches where I didn’t want them.

Yeah, I’m not saying they didn’t take good swings, and I don’t want to take anything away from them. Do you feel like maybe you were in the strike zone too much?

Yeah, there were a couple of times where I knew these guys were going to be aggressive. They’ve been aggressive all week. So my goal was to exploit that aggressiveness and expand, especially when I was ahead. And those times where I went to expand, I started the pitch on the outside corner, in an effort to have it dart away, and then that pitch still hit a wall on the outside corner. That shouldn’t be. Then I looked at the data, and instead of having my usual 12 to 15 inches (of break), it was five, and it was like, oh boy, not where we need to do that.

Thankfully, the last two innings I kind of had a feeling that it wasn’t where I wanted it, so that’s something that in between innings, when I’m getting my six-to-eight warmup pitches, I’ll just go ahead and work on whichever pitch I feel I need to get going. Thankfully, those last two innings I was able to do that and settle down for the most part.

You’ve seen some turnover in pitching instruction at the pro level, right?

Yeah, so basically a ton of new faces, but I guess, thankfully, I was only there for about a half a year or so with the original staff. I didn’t really know any of these guys, and maybe it’s a good thing that it happened when it did, because I was comfortable being in a professional setting. And now meeting all these people, as opposed to trying to figure out a professional setting and meet my bosses.

Then what was the change like going from the instruction at Dallas Baptist, which has a good reputation for pitching, to professional baseball?

I’d say probably the biggest thing that changes is in college, there’s a ton of moving parts. The sole purpose is this team has to win, and we’re all in it. We’re going to win, and whatever it takes, we’re going to do it together. And then as far as the pitching instruction goes, everything is fairly uniform; everybody goes together. I feel like the main gist of things that I got was that you found out whether or not you were a north-south guy or an east-west guy. For me, it was alright, I’m an east-west guy. I need to throw sinkers, and I need to throw sliders. And not to dumb it down by any means, but I think that’s exactly what needed to be done at that point in my my baseball career, and for the guys who were there with me, because you kind of figure out what path you’re going to be taking and the things that you need to do well to have success. Keep it simple.

And then the professional setting, it’s very similar in that you need to find out the things that work for you and the things that are going to make you successful, but that definitely gets amplified. In this organization, especially, there were so many resources compared to what we were working with in college, and I thought in college we were very well-equipped. It was mind blowing. We had TrackMan in college. We had all that with the Yankees, and then they started busting out slow-motion video, and then you have the portable TrackMan units that went in the bullpen. You weren’t just getting feedback from the games. And then they started breaking out different spin axes baseballs to basically give you visual feedback, they had certain markings on it, and you can tell when you’re throwing a pitch correctly. So the level of detail took a step up when entering the professional setting.

So you have all the tools to work with now is what you’re saying?

Oh, yeah, we’re like kids in a candy shop. You have everything at your disposal.

You seem like a guy who would take advantage of that kind of stuff. Would you consider yourself somebody who’s really interested in all the details?

Oh, yes. Especially given the right circumstance, and this is bringing in something I learned in college, which is training versus trusting mode. You have to know when the right time is to train and you have to know when the right time is to trust the work you put in and you can get the job done. And I’m in that same boat. You have to understand it’s not just blindly trusting, like you still make adjustments even though you’re competing. But the biggest difference there is knowing when to work on something and knowing when to compete. So, yeah, I definitely enjoy having all of these things at our disposal, and especially in a practice setting. Almost anything you can want to work on, there’s multiple tools that you can put together and get a lot of useful information to help make that adjustment you need to.

Here’s Part Two of this interview, which came out on Wednesday.. Sean was very generous with his time and thoughtful answers, and we wouldn’t want you to miss out on his insight.