Cubs new pitching coordinator at the center of team's rebuilding plans








While we focus on players and prospects, it’s the long-term organizational pitching health that the team is working hardest to repair right now.  The Cubs are becoming more than respectable in terms of position player prospects with Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, and Dan Vogelbach, not to mention MLB’ers like Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney, Welington Castillo, and possibly Brett Jackson.

The pitching is much more speculative as only Arodys Vizcaino is a consensus top 10 prospect among the pitchers and the only top arm at the upper levels.   The Cubs view him as a starter, according to Cubs VP of Scouting Jason McLeod.  Alberto Cabrera is another arm the Cubs are hoping to convert from one of their top RP prospects last season into perhaps a mid-rotation starter.  Barrett Loux could also be a #3 or #4 starter.  But they lack  depth as far as power arms.

The Cubs do have some power arms: Pierce Johnson,  whom the Cubs are very high on, Juan Paniagua (who reportedly hit 100 mph in Mesa), Duane Underwood,  and others.  But the Cubs have had good arms before, who can forget Bobby Brownlie, Luke Hagerty, Chadd Blasko, and Billy Petrick.

The problem with that second group of names isn’t that they were less talented, didn’t throw as hard, or didn’t have potential for a nasty breaking pitch.  The real problem was that they got hurt.  All of them.

The Cubs think part of the next marketing efficiency is a way to keep your young pitchers healthy.  Much has been studied about pitch counts and mechanics but it seemingly hasn’t been enough as the Cubs have continued to fail to develop arms consistently.

So the Cubs took a bold step in hiring Vanderbilt pitching coach Derek Johnson, who has helped tutor David Price, Mike Minor, and recent 1st round pick Sonny Gray.

The hiring was immediately praised among Jason McLeod’s peers.  The Cubs like Johnson so much that they’re even willing to tweak some of their Cubs Way manual, according to Baseball America,

McLeod says Johnson’s ideas fit well with those the new front office put into a manual for the organization. He said there have been some “tweaks” to the new Cubs’ Way since Johnson’s hiring, but that his influence will come mostly in one-on-one work.

Johnson believes something that may feel a little counter-intuitive to some.  He believes they under-throw and under-prepare.   He has a system but he keeps it flexible for the individual player.  He’s known for producing pitchers who throw a lot, with a highly structured system for long-tossing, and is considered a gifted teacher who adapts his style according to the strengths and weaknesses of pitchers.

“I spend a lot of time striving to really get to know the player—where he’s coming from, how he operates, how he competes—and studying what will make him better,” Johnson said. “This game is about the players. It’s not about my program . . . it’s about figuring out how to foster a player’s development.”

Expect the Cubs to continue to purse arms in next year’s draft, starting with the #2 overall pick as they give Johnson more and more raw material with which to work.  It’s going to be a process, but as we’ve seen, teams don’t give up upper level pitching talent all that easily.  If you want guys like Taijuan Walker and Julio Teheran, apparently it’ll cost you a top young player like Justin Upton.  The Cubs are not in that position right now, so they have to find alternative means to acquire top arms, though it’s going to take some additional development to get there.  Luckily, the Cubs think they’ve found the guy in Derek Johnson to help them with that development process.

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  • There was an artuicle in Baseball America online the other day regarding Johnson and Cubs pitching prospects. Appartently Johnson grew up in Illinois as a Cubs fan.

  • Sorry, I just realized you had a link to the BA article. As usual, you're way ahead of the rest of us.

  • In reply to cubman:

    Haha! Thanks. I did borrow a lot of quotes from that article. Encouraging piece by the guys at BA.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I wasn't able to read the article on Baseball America, is there anyway you can post the article for all of us to read?

  • Another great article. I remember Nolan Ryan last year in an interview in spring training thinking that pitchers dont throw enough anymore. It is interesting to see that Johnson somewhat agrees.I hope he can work some magic, I have always wondered if cubs pitchers got injured in the minors more than any other teams. It at least seems our top ones do.

  • In reply to cbbiefun2014:

    That's interesting too because Texas is one of the teams the Cubs are trying to model in terms of keeping pitchers healthy. Thanks for that since it supports this article as well.

    And yeah, it has certainly seemed that way. That group with Brownlie, Hagerty, etc. I had me some high hopes back then, but they all flamed out before reaching the bigs.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I hope its the Texas Rangers your talking about, not the U Of Texas. Every pitcher Gustaffson coached down there, from Clemons to Scharaldi to Swindell ended up having surgery in there middle 20s.(just kidding)

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    That's the main reason that the FO was so interested in Mike Maddux, and why he was at the time my favorite managerial candidate.

  • In reply to cbbiefun2014:

    Our early 2000s class ALL ended up with arm problems, Brownlie, Haggerty and Blasko never made the show and Wood and Prior ended up being injury prone. Clements career ended 2 years after leaving here. Coincidence?

  • In reply to cbbiefun2014:

    Dusty Baker agrees!

  • John Manuel and J.J. Cooper were talking about Johnson's hiring on the BA Podcast the other day. Manuel said the people in college baseball are all talking about the hire and how major league teams are finally acknowledging that college coaches know what they are doing. They said all the innovations on pitching development are happening on the amateur side of baseball. Professional baseball are scared to try something different because they have so much invested in the players, but on the amateur side they aren't afraid to branch out. Both guys thought it was a really good hire.

  • In reply to North Side Irish:

    Sweet! Thanks for that info! Really adds to the story...good stuff.

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    Johnson sounds a lot like Leo Mazzone.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    I sure hope so. If he ends up with that kind of success we should all be pretty happy.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    I hope hehas Mazzones record of success from Atlanta in him.

  • Great article, interesting topic, thanks John.

    I think DJ's hiring could have more impact on the organization than any one of our draft choices from last year. I hope that our prospects listen to him and buy into his system. Keeping our pitchers healthy while helping them realize their potential is one of the most important jobs in any club. His presence could help draw some free agent pitchers that might not be interested otherwise.

    DJ is an advocate of long tossing, and if you're not familiar with the regime, google it and look over his article:

  • In reply to SFToby:

    You're actually one of the people I thought of when I wrote this since I knew you'd catch the bit about the long-tossing. If I had the energy I'd broaden the article to include more of that, but I'll save it for a separate article1

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Well, these are the dark days of baseball news. You know I'd love to see that topic explored. Risks aside, advanced coaching can be one of the most effective ways to move an organization forward.

  • Gotta like the guy. I don't know much about long toss, and I know there's a debate about it, but my first impression is that it seems like a good idea and pitchers stay healthier.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    We also know that what the Cubs have tried hasn't worked either, so why not? It seems to have some track record of success if done right.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Long tossing also helps a pitcher find his own best release point naturally, which helps control issues.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    The Braves of Maddox, Glavin and Smoltz used long toss pretty effectivly.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Its supposed to help a pitchers mechanics. From what Ive heard, for example, Maples has a great arm, but bad mechanics. Hopefully our new co-ordinator can work on that.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    He's one of the first I'd like to see get some help.

  • It will be nice to see what our new pitching co-ordinator can do with the likes of Maples, Johnson and Underwood. Its been awhile(Maddux, Moyer, Kerry, Prior) since weve had some topflight pitchers comne out of our system. We can use a few.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Agreed, especially since they're so young and so much time to work with them. I like the idea of a consistent, tailor-made routine too.

  • great article.

    as a Mississippi State fan and follower of SEC baseball. I think the world of what Vanderbilt has been able to do the last 5 years. I am really excited about this hire.

  • In reply to waitingOn2015:

    Thanks. Looks like you got to see some of his results first-hand.

  • News that we were expecting to hear sooner than later.........ex-Cubs Milton Bradley was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon on his estranged wife in L.A.

    Bradley may face up to 13 years in prison, bat in the #3 slot and play center field at Folsom Prison.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    He's a very troubled man.

  • Somewhere Jim Hendry is wondering what ever went wrong with him as he was such a nice dinner companion before we signed him.

  • To me that was the begining of the end for Hendry. He took a team that won 96 or so games and got rid of all the leaders, Wood, Edmonds, DeRosa and Blanco and brought in Bradley. Hendry may have been the only person that thought that was going to work. Unfortunately, he was the one person that had the authority to make it happen.

  • I was on record with my sons as thinking the Bradley signing was two years too long, but today I feel sorry for him. I fear that there is something wrong with head that is unable to fix or control.

  • Very good article, John! Have you seen or know anyone who has gotten their hands on the "Cubs Way" manual?

  • In reply to historyrat:

    Thanks! I think they keep that pretty tightly under wraps -- and rightfully so.

  • I they are going to use their top 2 picks on pitchers, then they better be very careful in their development. To many young
    pitchers never make it pass AA because of injuries. Good
    and proper pitching mechanics should be tought through
    the organization.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Good chance of that in the draft. I expect them to take a lot of pitchers again.

  • Another fine article, John!

    Seems like last year ALL of our young, minor league starting pitchers regressed : Wells, Coleman, Trey McNutt, ... So, it's no surprise to see the Cubs clean their minor league house and try something different.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    I think it's about time they changed things up!

  • Maybe He can fix Hayden Simpson

  • In reply to kevie:

    I think it's too late for that guy.

  • Another great article which would confirm the Cubs Brass is going about the rebuild the right way, a brick at a time. I've been waiting many decades for this to happen.

  • Theo and Co. know the right way to (re)build a farm system

    Hire the right people (from top to bottom)
    Scout and draft the right players
    Take all the time it takes to develop a prospect
    Don't panic and trade away top prospects for a veteran

  • Great article. I don't have access to the Baseball America article. Does Derek Johnson use bio-mechanical analysis such as Rick Peterson and the Orioles do now?

  • In reply to bigjonempire:

    I would be shocked it he didn't use it.

  • I'm still amazed that Nolan Ryan was able to throw as hard as he did for as long as he did.

  • Is Baez going to be at the convention? I see he's in town.

  • Derek Johnson has a couple of training dvds out. If you want to see what this dude looks & sounds like as well as a couple of the stretching techniques he uses in his training regimen, check out the embedded video:

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    I have thought for a while that pitchers have been coddled. We used to play ball all day, now the kids only play when there is a scheduled practice or game and their innings and/or pitches are limited. The best pro pitchers topped 300 innings with less injuries. Could most of the arm injuries these days be caused by a lack of muscle development due to a lack of throwing? Will be nice to see if his program works.

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