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As noted in the Bullets this morning, it looks like the Cubs have snagged a top college coach to be their molder of young pitchers.

From Baseball America:

One of college baseball’s most respected and accomplished pitching coaches is leaving for a job in professional ball. Baseball America learned Sunday that Vanderbilt associate head coach Derek Johnson will become the Cubs’ minor league pitching coordinator.

Johnson, the 2010 Baseball America/ABCA Assistant Coach of the Year, deserves a great deal of credit for helping Tim Corbin build Vanderbilt into an elite program on the national level. Johnson joined the Vandy staff a year before Corbin was hired as head coach in 2002, and Corbin made the wise decision to keep him on the staff. In the last decade, Johnson has earned a glowing reputation among his peers and the scouting community for his ability to develop power arms, including David Price, Mike Minor, Sonny Gray, Jeremy Sowers and plenty of others.

“He’s had as much impact on our program as anyone,” Corbin told BA in the fall of 2010. “I think what D.J. has done with these kids is far-reaching. He’s kept them healthy, he’s made each one of them better. You look at the kids, the pitchers specifically, that have come out of our program, being able to pitch at the next level—it goes without saying . . . We would not have our success without having him on our staff.”

The move hasn’t yet been officially announced by the Cubs, but it looks like a done deal. It is just the latest in a long stretch of organizational changes that began with the introduction of Theo Epstein as President of Baseball Operations last year around this time. It is also just the latest example of the Cubs identifying and targeting a top talent, and doing what it took to bring that talent into the fold.

BA regards the hire as an excellent one for the Cubs, and believes Johnson is a flexible, knowledgeable instructor. He is also a proponent of long-toss regimens, so that will be interesting to follow. Long-toss, which involves throwing the ball over incredible distances, is a controversial method of arm conditioning because we don’t yet have any hard data on its ability to actually improve/protect the health of pitchers’ arms. Some folks swear by it, and others look at it – at guys throwing from one corner of the outfield to the other – and say, “This is nuts.”

Like I said, it will be interesting to follow. We don’t know that Johnson will impose a long-toss program, or, if he does, whether it will be for some or all prospects in the system.

All we know right now is that the Cubs continue to do what they can to bring in top men for spots within the organization.

  • http://worldseriesdreaming.com/ Rice Cube
  • matt

    Long toss DOES work!!! When i palyed college ball (as a right fielder) we had a long toss program we followed (Not just pitchers) year round. It builds incredible arm strength and endurance. Before I started i could hit 89-90mph and was bugged by constant arm issues. after following the program my freshman year I was able to hit 92-94mph and my arm issues literally disappeared. Now i was an outfilelder but I can say that the program definitely helped the individuals who followed it especially pitchers. I played back in 2001-2005 so i am glad to see this possibly being used in the Cubs organization since i know not alot of people or college programs/professional organizations utilize it.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Long toss DOES work!!!

      That’s a datum!

    • Internet Random

      Definitely glad to hear your input, but your improvement could just as easily have come from the fact that you were a year older and stronger… especially at that age.

      NB: I’m not saying that long-toss regimens don’t work, I’m just saying that we can’t know if they work from testimonials alone.

  • Cheryl

    This really looks like a good move.

  • BD

    I have to second what Matt said… I always threw long-toss from 12-years old through college, and I never had arm trouble. I was never really worried about a pitch count either. In my experience, long toss makes your arm stronger the more consistently you do it.

    “others look at it and say, “This is nuts.”

    A lot of long-toss opponents I have talked to don’t realize that it is just one workout that is part of a throwing program. It’s not like you walk out there with a cold arm and start heaving the ball 300 or 400 feet. It’s just like any other muscle workout, you want to get warmed up first and then push it. And you do it 3 or 4 times a week, not every day. I think it is very beneficial, and my preference would be to combine this with less breaking balls for young pitchers out there. That’s a way to build up the arm strength so that it is ready for the torque from breaking pitches. It also gives them a chance to learn their changeup, which as a Cubs fan, we know not many pitches tend to do early on (maybe it’s just me, but I feel like we haven’t seen a really good change on the Cubs’ staff in a while).

    Just thought I’d share my 2 cents.

  • TSB

    And in typical Cub fan fashion, if he doesn’t develop at least three number one starters in the next twenty minutes or so, fire hin!

  • Matthew

    I came here to make an Indiana Jones reference, but not surprised to see it was the first comment. Well done.

  • Kyle

    Wasn’t Leo Mazzone a big long-toss guy?

  • North Side Irish

    The part of the BA article I liked was this quote:

    “Johnson is a gifted teacher with a knack for adapting to the individual needs of his pitchers—he does not adhere to a one-size-fits-all philosophy.”

    So he believes in the long-toss program, but he isn’t going to force everyone into it. I think this balance is the key for the organization’s new approach. Some organizations don’t want their pitchers to use the long toss, but it sounds like Johnson will be allowed to have it as an option as needed.

    • terencem

      I think the point is that his program is built around using the long toss but, in terms of pitching profile, he doesn’t try to force anyone into a mold like the Twins, Tigers, Orioles, or Pirates have recently or in the past.

  • Spoda17

    Damn those Ricketts! Here is yet another example of them using the Cubs organization as a cash cow and not making any improvements! Bringing in one of the best coaches in the land to help our pitching is a huge smoke screen! This is a perfect example of the Ricketts using Cubs as a cash machine, and to take advantage of all of us fans. This money clearly should have been used to bring in an overpriced, washed up has-been to prove that spending good money after bad will eventually work. Prepare for the future!!? What a dumbass idea…

    • Kyle

      False choice.

      • Ted

        What do you mean? Who isn’t excited to pay $70 for bleacher seats when we have a pitching coordinator making above the league’s paltry average in the minors.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          Pretty sure that borders on a false choice, too. My desire to pay to watch the big league Cubs has little to nothing to do with this hire … but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good hire.

          • Ted

            Didn’t mean to present a choice; Ricketts’ willingness to fork over what can’t be more than a few hundred thousand is largely incongrous w/ the milking-Cubs-for-money hypothesis, which IS reinforced by high ticket prices and low major league spending.

          • Ted

            Not to imply this isn’t a good pickup, just to say it bears little if any relevance on the argument that the implementation of austerity measures by a high grossing huge market team looks…suspect.

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

              Sort of, but cheap owners tend not to outspend on the margins any more than they fail to outspend on payroll. Obviously we don’t know what Johnson is getting, but given his prior gig and high visibility, it’s a fair bet that he’s now one of the higher-paid pitching coordinators in baseball. The difference in pay between him and an average hire is, relatively-speaking, almost nothing. You’re right about that. But, like I said, cheap owners tend not to overspend on *anything,* because a bunch of “almost nothing” differences add up.

              If you’re just in it to make money, why would you spend more than your competitors on a position that 99% of the fan base isn’t even aware of?

              • Spoda17

                Okay, so you guys know I was kidding… right..? I was poking at the nay-sayers before they could… uh, er, uh… nay-say this move…

                • Cubbie Blues

                  That’s what makes it funny.

                • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                  Yes, we know the point you were making.

                • wilbur

                  What point?

  • Cizzle

    What? Develop a power arm? I didn’t think “those types” were allowed in the Cubs farm system.

    • terencem

      Hendry chased power arms for years, he just sometimes looked for them in strange places. JedCo is trying to do the same thing. There just very few good starting pitchers in the system going into the start of last off-season.

  • mudge

    So this guy is some sort of Messiah of long-toss? I’m opposed to anything done by the club.

  • MichCubFan

    Throwing is like lifting weights. There are different variations of throwing that can strengthen your arm in different ways. It is also very important to throw correctly or you can do more harm than good. You definitely want to stay pretty close to your normal throwing motion with long toss, not reaching too far back…and you don’t want to over do it.

    Long toss has a similar effect on your arm as throwing off a mound because you are releasing the ball at about the same angle. You are just putting a different amount of force behind it.

    Pitching is like maxing out. It tears down your muscles more and at a quicker pace. It is important to have a good throwing program so that your arm is in good enough shape to withstand that stress on your arm.

    I like some long toss, some flat ground throwing, and a lot of 50% exertion pitches off of the mound. You can work on pitch location, pitch movement, and your mechanics on the mound while conditioning your arm.

    Throwing at 100% exertion too often is why a lot of youngsters hurt their arms, especially the guys who don’t throw hard and have to exert more force to keep up with everybody else. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a lot of pros guilty of this.

  • bails17

    .It is funny to listen to all of the different thoughts on long toss/pitching. It just so happens that every little league dad in the country knows more than the next guy when it comes to this stuff.

    Bottom line: This is a great hire. I would put this as far up on the scale as any of the new hires the Cubs have made in the last year or so. This is the area where the Cubs can get better so much quicker than most people think.

    As far as long toss goes, I will add my two cents. I like it. It works for what we teach at our academy. But it really has to be accompanied with a complete Arm Care/Arm Strengthening program to work. Oh..and none of this really matters if the player has a serious inefficient arm action. Point being that there are lot of pieces to the puzzle we call PITCHING. But DJ is a guy who has a system in place where pitchers can and do succeed.

  • Carne Harris

    He’s had 6 pitchers he worked with who were drafted in the first round. Good hire. Hope he’ll be a big part of converting Alberto Cabrera to SP and rehabbing Arodys Vizcaino.

  • mudge

    a low carb diet and lots of long-toss salads are part of the conditioning program.

  • cubfanincardinalland

    Long toss huh? Maybe try getting some guys that can already throw hard. And are not afraid to throw it in the strike zone, which is the biggest problem Cubs pitchers have. Because the number one secret to being a good coach or pitching coordinator, is get yourself some players.

  • Troy

    A recent interview with Derek Johnson as to why he chose the Cubs job:

    Why now and why this job? …

    Derek Johnson: I talked to the kids and I talked to Coach Corbin and I said, ‘You know, the thing for me is I’ve never really wanted to be a head coach. So that being said, what’s your next step if there is one?’ I never felt like I needed to take another pitching job. In college baseball, I felt like I had the best one in the nation. So since I wasn’t going to be a head coach, this seemed to fit very well. So that’s the timing of it.

    I’ve had other opportunities with other jobs and I felt like … I’m an Illinois guy and I grew up watching the Cubs on WGN just about every day in the summer. I considered myself I Cubs fan growing up. That was part of the appeal. On the mature side of things, it was along the lines of I just felt good about the vision they have for what’s upcoming and what’s next for the organization, and I felt like they were going to give me the opportunity to be involved in that. That’s probably the main couple of reasons the Cubs appealed to me in the first place.

    I like the fact he is a cubs fan, but more important he likes the direction of the organization…makes me feel better knowing he gets it

  • Troy
    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Thanks. Have that one in the can for the Bullets tomorrow.

      • Troy

        Great! a local TV station interviewed him several months ago about his phylosophy with pitchers…. very impressive how he views success.. sounds a lot like a Theo type of guy

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