An Interview with Cubs relief prospect David Berg

David Berg isn’t your typical baseball pitcher. He wasn’t a star player in high school that had colleges fighting over him and he doesn’t have a fastball that can touch 95 mph. Berg has something that you rarely see from pitchers: a wicked sidearm delivery. The combination of his unique pitching style, a positive attitude and a lot of hard work has helped propel the 23-year-old into the Chicago Cubs farm system.

Photo by Stephanie Lynn

Photo by Stephanie Lynn

Berg struggled as an over the top pitcher in high school but gave sidearm a try while playing catch with a teammate one day, which caught the eye of his pitching coach.

Days later, Berg pitched two innings in an intersquad game, throwing over the top the first inning and sidearm the    second inning. “First inning didn’t go well at all,” he recalled. “Second inning I came out and faced three of our    better  hitters, got two strikeouts and a groundout and immediately was like, ‘wow, I need to stick with this and try  it out.’

Transitioning into sidearm his junior year was “raw and sporatic,” according to Berg, but he gained control of his      pitches for his senior year, eventually leading him to a walkon role at UCLA.

After several years of hard work, the Texas Rangers selected Berg during his junior year of college, in the 17th round  of the MLB draft, but he declined. “I felt like I was a little undervalued in the draft because I was throwing sidearm  and I’d had a minor arm injury that year,” the pitcher admitted. He also wanted to finish his education and felt that  returning to UCLA was his best option, not just for himself, but for his team as well.

“We were sub-500 for the first time in five years in the program, so it was important to me to go out on the right note   and really establish my career there as one of the best that ever walked through UCLA,” Berg said of his return to the  Bruins.

His goal was accomplished as his list of achievements during his time at UCLA is seemingly endless: set a NCAA season record of 24 saves his sophomore year, set a NCAA record for most appearances in a career as a UCLA closer, combined with a fellow UCLA pitcher for the school’s first no-hitter during his senior year, just to name a few. After an incredible four years at UCLA, David Berg was, and still is, considered the best relief pitcher in the history of college baseball.

As Berg continued to set records at UCLA during his final year, a new ball club took notice of the young sidearmer: the Cubs. He was taken in the sixth round of the 2015 draft. “It was like a weight off my shoulders, like ‘alright, someone really does value me as a big league pitcher,’ he explained.

The pitcher moved quickly through the Cubs’ system during his first professional season in 2015, playing just two games with short-season Eugene in June before moving to high-A Myrtle Beach on July 4, completely skipping low-A South Bend. He appeared in 16 games for the season with the Pelicans and posted a 1.69 ERA.

While only 23, Berg looks back on his days of college ball with astounding maturity, not a trace of regret in his voice. “Besides the baseball aspect of it and what you learn about the game in college, I think it’s so much about life and maturity in general that helps you succeed, on and off the field,” he said of playing in college before being drafted.

The mechanics of this pitching style look wicked but sidearm has the potential to be easier on the body than over the top. “A lot of guys feel really sore in their shoulders the day after they pitch, some can feel it in their elbows, different places just based on your mechanics but for me, I can go on back-to-back days without a problem,” Berg explained. “I definitely think that at this stage of my life, sidearm is a lot healthier and feels better on my body to be consistent throughout a season.”

Photo by Stephanie Lynn

Photo by Stephanie Lynn

Sidearm has some advantages compared to over the top pitching, which can make select pitches easier to throw. Berg doesn’t have to work very hard to make his fastball move: “The fastball is a huge advantage for me because I can just kinda throw it up there [in bad counts] and it’s gonna run and gonna be under the barrel a lot of the time, so it definitely helps me out of some bad situations.”

It’s also harder for batters to hit sidearm pitchers because the delivery style is so different compared to over the top pitches they see on a regular basis. “It’s just such a different look that it’s hard for guys to get timed up to it,” Berg explained. The pitcher averages about 83-86 mph on his fastballs, which is on the lower side, but he makes up for lack of speed with his quirky delivery. “Velocity isn’t everything.”

As he continues to grow and develop as a player, we can only hope that Berg will one day set new records again, this time for the Chicago Cubs.

Comments

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  • This is great, Stephanie! Berg seems like a really thoughtful player. Hard not to root for him.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Seeing Berg and his pitching motion makes me think of the old side armer, Ted Abernathy he was gold back in the 65,

  • In reply to TheRiot2:

    I remember as a kid trying to pitch submarine like Ted Abernathy...easier said than done.

    Great article!

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Thank you!

  • Thank you Stephanie, this was a great read. I'm with John here, sound like an easy kid to root for. Hope he makes it.

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    In reply to TC154:

    Thanks! He's a very likable person and he done a great job so far in the Cubs organization.

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    Really good article Stephanie. I like these, it puts a story with a name. I hope he can make it because he sounds like someone who is likable and a good teammate too.
    I know we always reference Greg Maddox when talking about velocity but it's true. I really believe that change of speeds and location (and maybe in David's case point of delivery) are so much more import and than pure velocity. Guys who throw 98mph get hit--we saw that yesterday with the Braves' relievers.
    Again, a great read, let's have more of these.

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    In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Excellent job of using the interview to write a story rather than just publishing the transcript. Thanks!

  • In reply to Richard Beckman:

    Agreed. I prefer this format too.

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    In reply to Richard Beckman:

    Thank you! He has such an interesting story, I can't imagine it being told in Q & A format.

  • Love this Stephanie!

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    In reply to Jared Wyllys:

    Thanks, Jared!

  • Berg reminds me of Darren O Day, the kind of pitcher you don't see much of and have a hard time getting used to.

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    In reply to mutant beast:

    I told him the exact same thing ;)

  • Nice work Stephanie. I like hearing from the players directly like that. Thanks.

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    In reply to Bilbo161:

    Thanks!

  • Digging through some numbers, he really is impressive with the lower velocity. Even without high strikout totals, he's maintained a K/BB ratio around 5:1 throughout his collegiate and professional career, meaning he simply doesn't walk many guys. Not a lot of hard contact, either, having not allowed a HR in 28 innings in the minors and only 5 in 267 IP at UCLCA. Weak contact, few walks, low WHIP's. A pretty good combination. The deceptive delivery must work. Sounds like a good kid, to boot.

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    Enjoyed the interview with David Berg and look forward too many more interviews with the kids on the farm.

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    In reply to TheRiot2:

    Glad you enjoyed it!

  • How is he doing this year?

  • In reply to clarkaddison:

    I haven't seen him in person, but strictly by the numbers: 1-0 with 3 saves and a 2.08 ERA in 7 games of relief at Myrtle Beach. Only given up 6 hits and 1 walk in 8.2 IP, along with 5 K's. All in all, doing exactly what he's done the last 5 years.

  • Thank you so much for this. This guy wasn't on my radar at all..

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    In reply to PolitiJim:

    You're welcome! I'm glad to have brought him to your attention--I think he'll be a good one to keep your eye on down the road.

  • Love this guy. All he does is get guys out -- almost all of them, at every level (starting w/ college). I could see him helping the big club at some point in the near future.

  • In reply to djbk:

    When your closer comes into a clean inning and walks guys, that sucks. I'm not saying he'll be a closer at the big-league level (I'm not saying he won't, either), but I like these guys. I know people are fascinated by 100 MPH heat, but a guy who can come in and throw strikes, induce weak contact, and like you say get people out, could have a bright future.

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    In reply to djbk:

    Exactly. Maddon says he likes "funk" is his bullpen, and what better than a sidearm pitcher? Enter David Berg...

  • Nice work Stephanie, well written. This guy sounds like someone we can easily pull for.

  • Great article Ms....good job! I like articles like this. This is a good idea....

    Any chance you can find Yosh Kawano and find out how he's doing?

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    In reply to Wickdipper:

    Thank you!

  • I like pitchers with different approaches that can confuse batters like this. However, I wonder if the Cubs system has a coach or two that knows how to develop a sidearm pitcher. If not, I wonder if they will bring in someone who does at some point.

  • In reply to cubster:

    I have faith that if they see potential, they'll figure it out.

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    It would be very nice to be able to go to a side arm submarine pitcher from the pen. It can really mess up opposing hitters. A very nice change of pace. I hope he makes it.

  • In reply to Sean Holland:

    As someone who has watched a crapload of college games over the last 5 years, I can safely say I have seen my share of righty sidewinders. Three things I must say though.

    1. They usually become sidewinders when their other style wasn't effective.
    2. They live on down and away movement to righties.
    3. Over the last couple of years, I have started seeing opposing teams really figuring out how to hit them as I feel the college level has become over saturated with them. Everybody has one. Take the ball to right and hit it hard the other way. Pepper the right field corner with laser shots.

    I still think the occasional one can have an effect on a one or two hitter basis though.

  • In reply to KJRyno:

    Very true. I almost hope for him to skip AA altogether and see if he can handle AAA The career AAAA or top prospects will tell us what he is. They will either take his stuff and spit on it or maybe he has a different angle for a little more deception. Would be great if he became a Quisenberry or Tekulve although today's "power" game would likely relegate him to a set up ROOGY role.

  • If that delivery is so easy on the arm perhaps the Cub's should stretch him out as a starter.

  • Given my fixation with David Berg's submarine delivery and potential for quick advancement, I was quite excited when John A. mentioned that you were going to post your interview. Thank you and great job!

    Does anyone know whether David throws anything besides a fastball and what he is working on at Myrtle Beach?

    Also, does anyone know what has happened to Daniel Lewis , military veteran, who signed with the Cubs in 2014? I thought he was in South Bend earlier this year but he is no longer on their active roster.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    I believe Daniel Lewis threw the other day in EXST.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    Daniel Lewis is here in AZ. He's a great guy and I will be totally shocked if he doesn't get a job with the org after his playing career is over, which hopefully won't be for awhile.

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    In reply to DropThePuck:

    Thank you!

  • Really good piece that combines the interview material with background info. Hard not to root for this guy--he doesn't have the measurable but he just keeps getting people out.

    I remember Pirates reliever Kent Tekulve, and he said that he could throw practically every day because the motion was easy on his body. He did get killed by Oriole lefties in one game in the 1979 WS, but he saved three games in that series.

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    In reply to seattlecub:

    Thanks!

  • Great interview Stephanie. This is what sets Cubs Den apart from all the others.

    Is Berg sidearm or submarine? I remember Abernathy as submarine but think of Tekulve and Quisenberry as low sidearm. Abernathy was pure submarine. I'm wondering if Berg's delivery comps with O'Day or Ziegler?

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    Thank you!

    I believe Berg is sidearm, as that's what he kept referring to. It's just unbelievable to watch him throw!

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    Chad Bradford pitched 11 years in the majors as a righty sidearmer who generated tons of grounders by throwing a low-to-mid 80s fastball 65-70% of the time.

    Berg can achieve the same or slightly greater success. It will depend on whether his delivery can continue to deceive the hitters in the high minors and the majors, and whether he develops secondary pitches that work off that delivery.

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