For years now, the Chicago Cubs have been deservedly lauded for their “pitching infrastructure.” That always meant more than just the pitching coach – now-departed Chris Bosio – and included catching coach Mike Borzello, bullpen coach Lester Strode, coordinator Tommy Hottovy, and many others who remain in the organization. Collectively, and to put it simply, they were responsible for putting the Cubs’ pitchers in the best position to succeed in the near and long-term.
For the most part, the Cubs have been extremely successful on that front in recent years, even as they’ve failed to develop much in the way of pitching from within. Obviously that’s a critical part of long-term success, but it’s also important to get the most out of pitchers that you import, and the Cubs have been able to do that.
Now, with Bosio departing for the Tigers, the Cubs will have a new pitching coach for the first time since the new front office took over before the 2012 season. Bosio joined the staff that winter with Dale Sveum, and had survived two coaching transitions thereafter. This will be a change.
Fortunately for the Cubs, it will probably be both a smooth change, and a productive one. New pitching coach Jim Hickey is not only familiar with Chicago, having been born and raised there, and not only is he familiar with Joe Maddon, having worked with him in Tampa Bay for nearly a decade, but he’s also one of the most highly-regarded coaches in baseball. No one can guarantee that he’ll be successful with the Cubs – much less guarantee the success of the pitchers he works with – but you couldn’t ask for a better situation for Hickey and for the Cubs.
You can read about Hickey’s transition to the Cubs here at Cubs.com, with thoughts from Maddon on why he’s so effective, and why he’s a fit for the Cubs.
But Hickey isn’t the only significant addition to the Cubs’ pitching infrastructure. There’s also Jim Benedict, let go by the new Marlins’ ownership (after the organization literally traded a quality pitching prospect to get him), and quickly scooped up by the Cubs.
Known as something of a “pitching whisperer,” Benedict will be a jack of all trades on the pitching side in the Cubs’ organization. A resource for the front office, the coaching staff, and pitchers from the minors to the big leagues. You can read more about Benedict from when he was hired here, and you should definitely check out a profile that Sahadev Sharma just put together on one of the most sought-after executive/coaching pieces in the game.
Like the infrastructure as a whole, Benedict’s role isn’t solely – or even mostly – going to be about quick fixes, as Sharma writes:
Benedict is setting the base for when he finally gets to spring and starts working with the players. And as he said, it’s a slow process, he must be methodical with what he’s doing. Getting to know the players and what makes them tick and how they handle criticism, coaching — all those and more factor into how and if he’ll give strong input or any changes. All of it matters. This isn’t “I see a mechanical flaw, I must change it.” It’s more about the individual as a person, the brain, the mechanics — all of it matters in Benedict’s decision to provide input and guidance. And even then, Benedict says he’ll rarely just go and tell a player directly how to fix something.
The Cubs are at such an important point in their organization process on the pitching side, with a host of young pitching prospects who *could* emerge as significant big league pitching prospects in the coming two years, and a desperate need for that to happen if the Cubs are going to prolong their competitive window throughout the time they have control over their positional core (which will get expensive, so the Cubs likely cannot be spending quite as much money on the pitching side as they have been).