‘Motivated’ first-round pick Xavier Isaac joins Rays

·4 min read

ST. PETERSBURG — When the Rays unexpectedly used the their first pick in the draft, No. 29 overall, on slugging high school first baseman Xavier Isaac, there was surprise and criticism from some industry observers and experts for taking him so high.

Isaac, 18, heard it as well.

And after signing with the Rays on Friday for the slot bonus of $2,548,900, he said that will fuel his work as a pro.

“Oh, it motivated me a lot,” Isaac said at Tropicana Field. “The Rays had their trust in me — like they said, they don’t follow the board — so they trusted me, they got me, and I’m going to grind and I’m going to show everybody why I’m a first-rounder.”

Isaac — a 6-foot-5, 240-pound lefty — has been doing that for a while.

First, in working his way onto the future draft boards of at least some teams by his sophomore year at East Forsyth High School near Winston Salem, N.C. Then again going into his senior season after a fractured left foot sidelined him for the summer showcase events and curtailed some of the interest.

“I started grinding, got to my sophomore year, I was really up there, one of the best first basemen in my class,” Isaac said. “I got hurt, and everybody was like, ‘Oh, he can’t do this. He can’t do that.’

“Came into the spring, grinded, the Rays came to see me, they thought they saw something better in me. So I like how they took the chance on me. And I’m going to prove that I’m one of the best first basemen ever.”

And that includes showing he can do more than launch prodigious home runs, with Rays officials confident he will be a complete hitter who makes contact at a high rate and can use the whole field, and be able to play good enough defense at first to not be relegated to DH duty.

The key, which Isaac impressed the Rays with over several years of tracking by area scout Landon Lassiter — as well as during a workout at their Triple-A Durham stadium and in a pre-draft zoom call — is how hard he is willing to work to improve.

“I have the best work ethic ever,” he said. “I’m going to come for your spot, and I’ll tell you straight up.”

As you can tell, he also has plenty of confidence in himself.

“I’m a very confident player, but I’m going to stay humble,” he said. “I’m not going to be real cocky on the field unless you want to talk smack to me. ... I’m going to hit my home run and just jog the bases and get off the field. I’m going to stay humble, but in my mind, I know I’m the best player on that field.”

Isaac had a sense of the Rays’ interest, but wasn’t sure what was going to happen until draft night. (They, conversely, felt pretty good — though not certain — he would get to them at No. 29, but were fairly sure he would be gone before they picked again at No. 65.)

Isaac also had another option, not only committing to play for the University of Florida, but enrolling in summer school and attending classes in Gainesville for about a month up until draft day.

The opportunity with the Rays was enough for him and representative Scott Boras to agree to the deal finalized Friday, with plans to get right to work on Saturday morning in Port Charlotte and potentially play in Florida Complex League games next month.

Because of Isaac’s size and profile, there have been some interesting comparisons to present and past players, with former Phillies star Ryan Howard among the most common. Isaac, for what it’s worth, said he will be “more mobile” and speedier than Howard, but doesn’t pay much attention to such talk.

“I don’t really think about that,” he said “I want to be Xavier Isaac. And I want everybody know I’m Xavier Isaac.”

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