Finding continued success out of the bullpen was a bit of a challenge for the Lansing Lugnuts this past season, as many players moved in and out of the lineup all year. But despite the movement, one player continued to make an impact in high-leverage situations throughout the Lugnuts’ campaign: Dusty Isaacs.
Receiving the word that he was heading north to join the Blue Jays Low-A affiliate in May was just the news the Ohio native wanted to hear. Obviously the righty was thrilled to have an opportunity to compete on a team where the games matter and get out of the grind of extended spring training.
“Coming to Lansing was great,” said Isaacs. “It was great getting out of extended spring training. Extended is a mental and physical grind. With that being said it’s great for getting reps and polishing your game up.”
“I was mostly working on staying consistent in extended,” Isaacs added. “I feel I threw the ball pretty well in spring training. I sat down with the coaches and coordinators to come up with a plan to stay healthy. After that I was basically refining parts of my game. I worked on my breaking ball a lot. The great thing about extended spring training is you don’t have to worry about results, you can just work on things to fine-tune your game.”
Isaacs was solid during his 25 appearances for the Lugnuts this past season. Going 2-0 with a 3.93 ERA and two saves in 50 1/3 innings of work, the righty showcased excellent command all season as he racked up 60 strikeouts and only allowed 11 walks in the Midwest League.
This success comes from his ability to throw all four of his pitches for strikes. Currently using a fastball, slider, changeup, and curveball in his pitch repertoire, Isaacs throws from a ¾ arm slot.
“Throwing from the ¾ arm slot is just something that’s natural for me,” said Isaacs. “I have never been one to just throw straight over the top. I have thrown this way as long as I can remember.”
His ability to command his pitches really impressed Lugnuts pitching coach Jeff Ware, who feels that Isaacs has an advantage over other pitchers due to his ability to put guys away with multiple pitches.
“Dusty Isaacs has done a great job all season,” stated Ware. “Dusty has good life on his fastball and he has a slider and a changeup that’s really become two out pitches. He’s able to throw both of them for strikes and have success with them as well.”
The appreciation goes both ways as Isaacs relished every minute of working with Ware, from spring training until the conclusion of the Lugnuts’ season in September. The prospect especially enjoyed the way the former major leaguer lets his players take on new challenges for themselves, but continues to be there when needed.
“Jeff Ware is great,” said Isaacs. “I got to work with him for most of spring training. I think Jeff is good. He brings a lot of experience. He’s pretty personal and I can relate to him well. Jeff has been around baseball a long time. I think he’s an excellent blend of a coach and letting you as a player try to figure things out for yourself.”
Striving off high-leverage situations since his days of playing college baseball at Georgia Tech, Isaacs continually performed better as a reliever than he did as a starter. Pitching primarily out of the bullpen as a senior, Isaacs posted his best collegiate season. Going 8-5 with a 1.92 ERA and seven saves, the righty was tough on hitters as he maintained a 1.13 WHIP and struck out 53 batters in 61 innings.
“I think that pitching in the back end of games is just something that fits my personality best,” explained Isaacs. “I have always been a hard-nosed competitor that likes to have the ball in my hands when it matters most. Also being in the bullpen you come to the ballpark every day with a chance to impact the game, which is exciting.”
Taking note of this fact, the Toronto Blue Jays have continued to develop the prospect there since selecting him in the 18th round of the 2014 draft. It’s a great fit for both the player and the organization, as Isaacs is already 24 years old which is roughly one year older than the majority of his competition in the Midwest League.
But what makes this decision great for both sides is the fact that many scouts view relieving as a faster path to the major leagues. With the age concerns from the Blue Jays front office and the comfort of performing in this role for Isaacs, this decision just makes sense.
Blue Jays fans will see why in the upcoming seasons.