In the second part of our interview with Yankees pitching prospect Sean Boyle, he shares his thoughts on winning versus individual development, his observations of rising through minor league baseball, and the experience of his first major league spring training.
On a personal note, while it may be easy as a fan to root for whomever puts on a Yankee uniform, it is good to know they employ class acts like Sean. As it hopefully appears in both the first and second parts of the interview, he was accommodating and insightful.
You mentioned competing, so in your experience in pro baseball, how has winning been balanced against individual development? Is one emphasized over the other?
Yeah, that’s definitely interesting. Once you go from college to professional, you can see the clear switch. Yeah, guys are competitive, and they want to win, but nobody gives a crap whether or not you win or lose. Nobody wants to lose, but in college those things weigh a lot heavier. That’s the goal. So that’s a tough adjustment, because in college, you could have a great time and not play very well or hardly play.
But if the team’s winning, everybody loves that. Professionally, it can feel very self consuming, because you want to make sure that you’re doing well, and you get a lot of inward thoughts. You’re thinking about yourself, and you have to because this is our career. This is our job right now, so the only way to make progress is to develop and perform. But at the end of the day, as long as you’re showing that you’re making progress and you’re improving, that’s when you have the chance of moving up. And if you can continue to make progress, then you’ll get to where you want to be. So I guess the key is to keep that ball rolling.
Does that make it harder to play when you’re maybe more focused on your own performance?
Oh, for sure it can make it harder to play. You know, I recall early in my college days competing with other players, and good competition within is healthy. But once you start hoping that somebody else does poorly, that’s where things get bad. You definitely never want to go down that path, because that’s just a lonely place to be. And then on the other side of things, if you are so focused on what you’re doing, that’s just putting unnecessary pressure on yourself. I like to remind myself often that I get to play professionally. A lot of people dream to do this kind of stuff, and that, to me, takes a lot of pressure off. I want to go out and play and I want to enjoy playing. We’ve all heard the superstars say the day that they felt like it was a job, they knew it was time to hang it up. I feel like it could be tough at the lower levels or early starts in professional sports to understand what that actually means, because we could put so much pressure on ourselves from the beginning, but you are allowed to enjoy it.
Speaking of the beginning, you played in the Gulf Coast League. I’ve always thought it has to be tough to focus playing in front of no one when it’s 100 degrees in Tampa at noon.
Yeah, definitely difficult. It’s a mental grind, because it’s unfavorable conditions. It’s not very glorious-looking fields or anything, and you could find a lot of negatives in that. But on the other hand, when you’re in that game, it’s pretty surprising how things flip and it becomes one of the biggest games of your career to that point. For a lot of guys, they’re young professionals; they’re first getting started. I can recall being in those games, and feeling like it’s a World Series game almost. Unfortunately, that kind of feeling does wear off in that scenario. However, the goal is to keep pushing the envelope, keep making progress, and if you break out of that environment in each step those feelings do come back. You get fired up.
You’ve pitched at every level, even some levels that aren’t even there anymore. Did you feel like there was one where you noticeably saw the jump in level of competition?
So when I first got signed, I was kind of surprised at how overly aggressive everybody was at the plate. Not necessarily a good thing. It kind of made life a little easier, to some degree, being able to just throw pitches almost randomly. I think I threw 15 innings my first year, and I think I averaged eight pitches an inning. It’s ridiculous. Then you move up and things start becoming a little bit more balanced and hitters are more patient and start developing a real approach.
But probably the level that I noticed the most significant change was Double-A, and I experienced Triple-A first. I was actually pretty blown away at Double-A in the fact that it seemed like guys were super focused and had great awareness for the zone. Maybe not great, but very good awareness for the zone. And it seemed like a different level of focus. When I was up at Triple-A in the tail end of ‘21 and definitely one of the first things I noticed was the salty vets who were there making a push, but the intensity wasn’t quite the same as when I went to Double-A. Those guys in Triple-A were very good at knowing the zone and talented players, but it seems like the focus level and intensity was a little bit more in Double-A. Now experiencing Triple-A from the start this year, it feels like that again. So I don’t know if it was just the tail end of the year.
I’ve heard that Double-A is a separator, meaning you know someone can play if they get to Double-A. Is that the way you guys think of it?
I’ve heard a ton of people say that is the separator as well, and I think there’s some truth there. And then it feels like it does take a step up in Triple-A. Everything seems to level, pitchers really understand who they are, and the hitters, again, have really good awareness for the zone.
You had your first major league spring training invitation this year. How would you describe that experience?
That was incredible. I wasn’t sure what was going to be the best way to approach it. Obviously the goal, and I feel like it may sound silly, but the only way to approach that is to go in there and make an impression, take it day by day, and just keep pushing that envelope. That’s the theme of this whole thing. But probably the biggest thing I got out of that was realizing, and it was one of Boone’s early team meetings, he was talking to everybody there and it was, “Whether you think you’re making this club or whether you think there’s never a shot, you have to understand you’re in here for a reason.” He says, “There’s countless guys where,” and he points over to the section we were in with the non-roster invitees, “every year in this section of the locker room that I never in a 100 years would have thought I’d see them up in the Bronx in a pivotal moment or a time that we need to count on somebody, and sure enough their faces just pop up and they’re in the game in these big moments.”
So that realization was pretty freaking cool. It’s like, alright, this organization thinks highly enough to invite us in here. They didn’t have to invite any of those non-roster guys there. The fact that those kinds of things end up happening, it tells you to just keep working, making that progress, and take little steps each time, especially as you go higher. In college, my coach would say to get one percent better. But once you get closer to 100%, those percentages get more and more difficult to stack up. This is a similar feeling and scenario, and I can hear myself saying that it’s such a small difference, but just keep laying it out there and things are definitely going the right way.
Did you expect an invitation or were you just hoping and thinking about it?
Definitely, I was thinking about it but I was not sure how it came about. How does it happen? I wanted one, and I thought that I had been pushing the gas pretty hard the past two years. So I was hoping to be recognized in that matter, and I was definitely caught off guard when I was invited. So that was pretty awesome.
How do they communicate that to you?
I had no idea how, so I thought, do they send out an email or call you? In the offseason I was going to the Tampa facility because I live about an hour south. I would go there on my heavy throwing days just to make sure that I had a good mound to throw on, good resources. I had just finished throwing a very lackluster bullpen and Sam (Briend), our pitch coordinator, he’s standing behind me and he said, “All right, well, you still throw slow, huh?” And I thought, oh boy, here we go. I’m over here trying to make a push and I’ll get these comments. Then I’m in the weight room afterwards. I’m lifting and the whole pitching department and the player development staff, they pull me aside mid-lift and I’m thinking, oh boy, these are the head guys, Kevin Reese and the whole pitching department’s there. I’m thinking this is either going to be a good conversation or a really bad one. In the middle of a lift? What do you guys have for me? And then they told me that I’d received an invitation, and they were fired up for me and so that was cool. It definitely caught me off guard, but it was very nice to feel like the work being put in was being recognized and an opportunity was presenting itself.
Do you have a lot of communication with guys at that level? How much feedback do you get from someone like (senior director of player development) Kevin Reese or (director of player development) Eric Schmitt or guys like that? How much contact do you have with that level of the organization?
They’ll say their door’s always open, but it’s not a whole lot other than when they come into town for an affiliate visit or something like that. You just talk. But I don’t think I’ve ever had any conversation of, “Hey, I think I’m doing really well, so what’s holding me up?” or something like that. I know players have. I try to just stick to understanding what my goals are with the pitching department and then try to exceed those and let that progress speak for itself.
Because I think at the end of the day, especially the higher you go, results start to matter more, and that’s something that’s coming directly from the pitching department at the lower levels. They’re focused more on what the individual can do, not necessarily the results, but what does their stuff look like? How are the pitches moving? Then as you move up, the hitters become much better. So that’s where the results of the player, especially the pitcher, become more and more important.
I’ve always heard guys who go to spring training maybe for the first time and they’ll say, “I got in there and I got to see how so-and-so goes about his business and I really learned a lot from that.” Did you have that kind of experience?
Actually, no, I really didn’t. But two guys that really stand out are Gerrit Cole and (Carlos) Rodón. They’re obviously some of the top guys. Unfortunately Rodón’s hurt at the moment, but watching him in the weight room, it’s like, holy crap! He’s a big dude, and he’s always getting after something. But there was not necessarily anything ground-breaking new. I’ve seen tons of guys on the minor league side that are animals in the weight room and stuff like that. And then Cole. just how he goes about it, when he’s on the mound or when it’s his bullpen or game day, it’s just incredible to watch. Just to see somebody as dominant as he is do his job from that point of view in a dugout or sitting in a chair right next to him while he’s throwing a bullpen, or throw a bullpen next to him, that’s pretty cool.
Probably the coolest thing is just to have those interactions with the guys and to hear their interactions, because they’re at the top of their game and having the same conversations that we have down in the lower levels. It’s a game of reminders and adjustments and the moment you need fewer reminders and you make adjustments quicker, that’s when you become these guys you’re watching on TV.
You’ve been successfully promoted throughout your career, but does that become a sensitive topic around guys who haven’t?
So I think I get what you’re asking and, of course, you don’t want to be a complete jerk and be only about yourself. Nobody likes that guy, but I haven’t been around a group of guys who haven’t been happy for a teammate having success or getting a call up or something like that. You could definitely see some guys it weighs pretty heavy on. I don’t know if you ever heard people say don’t try to play GM, especially as a player.
Do you see players who might get treated differently because of where they were drafted or what their signing bonus was?
It’s a business and sometimes there’s agendas other than you know. You could see where opportunity presents itself to certain draft classes and certain signing bonus levels. However, if you’re any good and you’re getting the job done, you will be recognized. And I can understand that. I’ve heard people say whether you signed for a million dollars or if you signed for a plane ticket, if you’re both doing well, maybe the guy who signed for a plane ticket has to continuously prove himself. Whereas the guy who signed for a million bucks, maybe if they drag bottom for a little bit, they get the benefit of the doubt. But at the end of the day it’s about performance. You have to show that you can show up as a professional, get your job done, put the team in the best position for a win, and handle yourself accordingly.
Your name now appears on prospect lists published through the year. Do you look at that stuff? Is that ever talked about?
Within family and friends, it finds its way out and, yeah, I’ve looked into that stuff. I don’t think it’s unhealthy. It can be unhealthy depending on how you choose to view it, and it’s cool to be recognized, but at the end of the day, it goes back to having to show up every day and get it done. But it is cool to be recognized at that level. However, I try not to put much weight into that because it seems like that’s stuff that’s based on yesterday, or in the last month, so let’s keep it current. Let’s push it, you know?