On the New Minor League Pitching Coach, Whose Hiring Flew Way Under the Radar

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This one started as a snippet on MLBTR, and would have gone by the wayside had I not been paying attention.  I did post it on our messageboard (yes, we have one of those) and Anno posted Paul Sullivan’s way-late retweet of it later.  Way to do your job, Sully.  Anyways, for those of you not in the know, the Cubs have hired Vanderbilt pitching coach Derek Johnson to be their minor league pitching coordinator.  This is a huge deal for a number of reasons.

For one, you type in “Vanderbilt coach Derek Johnson” on Google and any number of pages will pop up praising him for being a badass.  He is generally regarded as an excellent teacher, and here is an article he penned on the art of pitch calling from last year that is a very enjoyable read.

From the original Tweet from Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt, we know that Derek Johnson was at least partially responsible for developing pitchers such as David Price and Sonny Gray, who are supremely talented and were chosen early in the draft.  He is one of the reasons why Vanderbilt’s baseball program is so highly respected and formidable, and has won awards for his coaching.

Johnson helped lead Vanderbilt to the school’s first-ever College World Series in 2011 with the pitching staff leading the Southeastern Conference in ERA and strikeouts. The Commodores’ pitching staff was armed with eight players that were selected in the major league baseball draft, including first round picks Sonny Gray and Grayson Garvin bringing Johnson’s total to six Vanderbilt pitchers drafted in the first round. Taylor Hill along with Gray and Garvin made every weekend start during the season with Gray and Garvin earning All-American honors. On his way to setting the school record with 13 wins Garvin became the second VU pitcher to be named SEC Pitcher of the Year in school history joining David Price, both under the tutelage of Johnson. The Dores also had two freshmen hurlers pick up Freshmen All-American honors in Kevin Ziomek and T.J. Pecoraro.

I’m going to assume that this guy knows what he’s doing.  Here’s an interview with Johnson from earlier this year.  Among the things he says is that he wants to get outs, he wants to lead by example, the usual teaching rah-rah stuff, but the results at the collegiate level suggest that he can get the results to back up his words.  This in particular is very interesting:


On being approached several times for head coaching jobs through the years …

“I don’t have to become a head coach. It’s not something ego-wise I have to fulfill. I really like what I do here. I like pitching. It’s easily my favorite part of the game, and I want to get better at it. That’s something I’ve tried to do each year is better myself in that area of the game. I figure that when the time is right and the place is right, then maybe I would (take a head coaching job). But I’m not in a hurry. Really to me, if I was here for another 20 years that would be just fine. And I mean that. That’s no one of those things I just say. My family loves Vanderbilt. We love Nashville. My kids (Teague, 8, and Taite, 5) don’t know anything different – it’s the only place they’ve ever lived. The idea of them moving, I don’t know if they’d have it.”

The thing is this…he isn’t a head coach, really.  He is technically the lead in minor league pitching development for the Cubs now, which is a big deal, but he’s not the MLB pitching coordinator or the pitching coach or manager.  And he’s moving far away from Nashville.  You have to wonder what kind of goodies the Cubs threw into the bag to lure him from a good situation at Vandy.  But based on everything that I’ve been able to dig up on the guy so far, be glad that the Cubs threw the kitchen sink at him and he’s working for us now.

About Rice Cube

Rice Cube is the executive vice president of snark at World Series Dreaming. He loves all things Cubs, with notable exceptions (specifically, the part of Cubs fandom that pisses him off). Follow on Twitter at cubicsnarkonia

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