Results tagged ‘ Christina Kahrl ’
(Photo courtesy Vanderbilt Athletics)
Pitching guru Derek Johnson has spent years working with talented pitchers at various levels of the collegiate game. This offseason, the 41-year-old signed on to be the Cubs’ minor league pitching coordinator, which means he is ultimately in charge of all the arms in the organization from Triple-A on down. For the May issue of Vine Line, we talked to Johnson about coaching the college game, adapting to the professional ranks and cutting through communication issues with international prospects.
It’s no secret there has been some serious turnover in the Cubs organization since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer left the Red Sox and Padres, respectively. A year into the Chicago job, one of their most important—though unheralded—new hires is minor league pitching coordinator Derek Johnson.
Johnson’s experience working with young pitching talent stretches back almost 20 years to the end of his career on the mound as a college pitcher. Johnson, 41, won All-Mid-Continent Conference honors at Eastern Illinois University before moving into coaching at the school in 1994. He followed that up with three seasons at Southern Illinois and four at Stetson before taking over the pitching program at Vanderbilt in 2002. There, he won pitching coach of the year in 2004 and national assistant coach of the year in 2010.
After a long, introductory spring with the Cubs in Arizona, Johnson took a little time off before diving back in with the minor league affiliates.
“The first week after Spring Training, I got to go home and recover,” Johnson said. “It’s a lot of fun now [that the season has started], because I’m going to see some things I didn’t get to see in Spring Training and interact with players some more—and coaches too. That’s probably more my style, and more what I was hoping to do when I took the job.”
His role with the organization is a marked departure from his coaching career at Vanderbilt, where he oversaw the development of Rays ace David Price, Braves lefty Mike Minor and four other eventual first-round picks. As a coach, it was easy to be hands-on, working directly with every pitcher in his care. As the farm system’s pitching coordinator, numbers and geography dictate he doesn’t get to see every hurler every day. Plus, he’s not just working with the players, but also with the coaches at every level.
“I spend a lot of time with video. I’m not used to it yet,” Johnson said. “I spent a really long time having my hands on everything [as a coach], and now I have to adjust to that—trust the pitching coaches that are at the different affiliates, trust their judgment and get an idea of what they’re seeing to put that together with my thoughts to come up with some sort of a plan. It’s a very different kind of challenge.”
He’s also working with a more diverse collection of talent than in college, including pitchers from Asia and Latin America, and communication can be difficult. But Johnson is excited about the challenge.
“There can be a communication gap, so it can be a challenge to get your point across,” he said. “At the same time, it’s easy, because you get great young men from all different walks of life, backgrounds, speaking different languages, with different maturity levels. … I challenge myself to communicate better, to put things more simply to help communicate to players the direction we want to go.”
With so many pitchers under his care, Johnson has to deal with an inevitable bottom-line question: Who is he most excited about in the system? A week into the minor league season, Johnson refused to pick favorites.
“I saw them all in Spring Training, and I saw them all on video before that,” he said. “I like our nucleus. We have some guys who are a little bit under the radar, where things could really happen for them. At the same time, it’s a little bit hard to tell that without first being at the affiliate, watching them play, watching how they go through the season, how they fight through adversity. So it’s early to say, but I think we’ve got a lot of guys in the system who can turn the corner.”
Matt Carpenter has been solid since splitting duties between his regular third base and the keystone. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
The Cardinals certainly had their share of early-season setbacks, but that only made it clearer the broad collection of talent GM John Mozeliak has assembled can carry the team through just about anything. Having to scratch veteran ace Chris Carpenter for the season made it easy to make room in the rotation for potential Rookie of the Year candidate Shelby Miller, and losing shortstop Rafael Furcal opened up an opportunity for last year’s stretch-drive hero, Pete Kozma. The team is so strong and deep that outfielder Oscar Taveras, arguably the best hitting prospect in baseball, may spend the season in the minors waiting for an opportunity. And most pundits believe the Cards have the best farm system in baseball. In the after-Pujols era, this team isn’t just ready, it’s fully loaded to contend for years to come.
4.8 runs scored/game, 4th in the NL
The Cardinals have shifted a few players around to maximize the team’s offensive potential. They asked third baseman Matt Carpenter to split time between the hot corner and second to get his lefty power stroke into the lineup while also making room for first baseman Matt Adams, who could be off the DL by the time the Cards head to Wrigley Field. Carpenter, four-corners asset Allen Craig and utilityman Daniel Descalso give manager Mike Matheny more than enough moving parts to rotate around stars Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina. This hitting talent has also made it much easier for the team to endure a slow start from third baseman David Freese. If there’s one weakness in the St. Louis attack, it’s that the loss of Furcal has almost eliminated the running game. As a result, the Cards have become very much a station-to-station, big-inning offense.
3.5 runs allowed/game, 2nd in the NL
Perhaps no rotation in the league has been as strong as the Cardinals’ quintet in the early going. Adam Wainwright put up a 2.03 ERA in six April starts, striking out 43 and walking just three on his way to a 4-2 record. Lefty Jaime Garcia would front many big league rotations, and Miller’s mid-90s, moving fastball made him the top pitching prospect in the league coming into the year. Add in Jake Westbrook’s league-leading 1.07 ERA and Lance Lynn’s power-curve assortment, and there’s no such thing as a day off for opposing lineups. The problem is the ’pen, where Mitchell Boggs struggled to fill in for injured closer Jason Motte and was recently demoted. If there’s another source of worry, it might be the team’s interior defense. Experimenting with Carpenter at the keystone is much like the risk the Cards ran when they converted outfielder Scott Schumaker to second base. The move has worked out so far, as Carpenter’s defensive stats indicate there’s not much of a dropoff, but it remains to be seen how well it will work in the long run.
Former Cub Andrew Cashner will throw Wednesday for the Padres. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
While the Giants are busy winning World Series titles and the Dodgers continue to take on huge payroll to try to keep pace, their “small market” neighbors to the south have quietly assembled a team many think has the potential to surprise in the NL West. Manager Bud Black already turned a few heads last season, squeezing 76 wins out of a group many expected to finish at the bottom of the division. But through the first month of the season, the pieces haven’t quite clicked, as the team sits at 9-15 heading into the Cubs series. On the plus side, it helps that the Padres have developed a true superstar in switch-hitting third baseman Chase Headley, who opened the season on the DL with a thumb injury. Headley hit a career-high 33 home runs last year (after a previous career high of 12 in 2009) and drove in a league-leading 115 men. He’s gotten off to a slow start this year, but he has played in only 10 games. With the Friars moving in the fences at Petco Park this season, Headley could be a dark-horse MVP candidate.
HITTING: 3.6 RS/G 12th in NL
The shorter fences at Petco won’t help just Headley. Former White Sox slugger Carlos Quentin managed to slug .504 in a half season after coming back from knee surgery last year. Despite that lost time, he also achieved the rare feat of leading different leagues in hit by pitches in consecutive years. The Padres have high hopes that first baseman Yonder Alonso will blossom into a power source as a sophomore after ripping 39 doubles as a rookie. Black runs an aggressive offense, platooning to advantage, getting runners on base and then moving them to keep defenses guessing. Shortstop Everth Cabrera led the NL with 44 steals (against just four times caught stealing) in 2012, spearheading an efficient running game that generated 155 swiped bags. Add in the potential for a power boost in their previously pitcher-friendly home park, and it’s a lineup that should be better than their 3.6 runs a game might indicate.
PITCHING: 4.6 RA/G 13th in NL
The problem with the Padres’ pitching staff is simple: Some of the team’s best starters opened the season on the disabled list. Of course, not having to face Cory Luebke early in the season works to the Cubs’ advantage. In the meantime, San Diego will rely on some starters that should be very familiar to Chicago fans—ex-White Sox southpaw Clayton Richard and ex-Cub Andrew Cashner. They will also run out inconsistent Cincinnati import Edinson Volquez. One thing to watch for is Black’s deft touch with the bullpen, where his best weapon is the rubber-armed Luke Gregerson, who has become one of the best set-up men in baseball. Also keep an eye on Dale Thayer and lefty Joe Thatcher in situational matchups and tight spots.
Shin-Soo Choo takes over in center field for the Reds. (Photo by John Grieshop/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
The Reds entered 2013 with the expectation that the division was theirs for the taking yet again, thanks to a deep rotation, a lineup stacked with power hitters who take advantage of the homer-happy Great American Ballpark, and the addition of a top-shelf leadoff man in Shin-Soo Choo.
Things are still going according to plan as Cincinnati leads the NL Central, though there are a few question marks running through the organization. Staff ace Johnny Cueto went on the DL in mid-April after straining his lat, and there isn’t a true timetable for his return. And the verdict is still out as to whether Choo can handle center field, a position he hasn’t played regularly since A-ball.
An even bigger source of early-season drama was the spring argument over what to do with the Cuban Missile. Is Aroldis Chapman’s triple-digit velocity more valuable in the rotation, or should the Reds leave him in the bullpen as their closer, where he has already had success? After testing him in the front five this spring, the team moved him back into the closer role prior to the season. We’ll see how it all plays out.
The Cubs will face lefty Derek Holland Tuesday night. (Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)
The following is from Vine Line‘s April Gameday Edition. Fans can purchase the full version of the official program and scorecard of the Chicago Cubs at various kiosks around Wrigley Field.
The previously high-flying Rangers come into 2013 trying to recover from the shock of blowing their AL West lead to the A’s in the season’s last week, and then losing the Wild Card play-in game to the upstart Orioles. That debacle triggered even more turbulence this offseason. Texas endured a winter of front office power struggles over former President Nolan Ryan’s role, saw star center fielder Josh Hamilton defect as a free agent—to the division rival Angels, no less—and traded away longtime fan favorite Michael Young to the Phillies.
The Rangers feel they’re strong enough to contend in 2013—and they still have one of the top prospects in the game in Jurickson Profar—but it’s easy to anticipate how a slow start could incite panic for a team that’s taken a tumble after winning back-to-back AL pennants in 2010 and 2011.
3.7 Runs Scored/Game — 21st in MLB
With Hamilton gone, the Rangers lost a premium bat from the left side. To replace him, they had to settle for two aging veterans, Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski. But the 37-year-old Big Puma is coming off a season ruined by injury, while the 36-year-old Pierzynski is likely due to come down from a surprising 27-homer year with the White Sox. Cuban center fielder Leonys Martin joins second baseman Ian Kinsler and shortstop Elvis Andrus to give the Rangers a lot of offense at the up-the-middle skill positions. But it will be interesting to see how much offense they get at the corners from Berkman, David Murphy and Mitch Moreland. One player they won’t have to worry about is Adrian Beltre, a premium defender with an MVP-caliber bat at the hot corner.
3.0 Runs Allowed/Game — T-3rd in MLB
Wherever else the Rangers have problems, they still have an outstanding front three in their starting rotation. Second-year Japanese import Yu Darvish more than lived up to lofty first-year expectations, while Matt Harrison and Derek Holland give the Rangers a pair of quality lefties who are both just coming into their own. Harrison is currently on the DL with a lower back strain and should return soon. But what the team does after those three is open to question. Even after seeing relief ace Neftali Feliz blow out his elbow after a move to the rotation last year (likely costing him most of 2013), the Rangers are doing the same thing with Alexi Ogando. Like Feliz, Ogando is talented enough to merit the move, but the Rangers can’t afford to see him break down as well. Once injured veterans Colby Lewis and Joakim Soria join the staff later in the season, the team might have the kind of depth to contend.
Former Cardinal pitcher Kyle Lohse joined Milwaukee in the offseason. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
The following is from Vine Line‘s April Gameday Edition. Fans can purchase the full version of the official program and scorecard of the Chicago Cubs at various kiosks around Wrigley Field.
For years, it seemed like the Cubs and Brewers were constantly sparring for NL Central supremacy. But those days are over for the time being, with the Cubs trying to rebound from a 101-loss season and the Brewers perhaps dealing with a rebuilding year after a third-place finish in 2012. The offense, which carried the team last year, should still be solid, but the pitching staff is a big question mark—though the late-spring signing of former Cardinal Kyle Lohse should help.
The Brew Crew were already planning on breaking in a few youngsters in their rotation, signaling they probably wouldn’t be running with the Reds and Cardinals atop the division. But between losing slugger Corey Hart for the first two months of the season and having to do without Mat Gamel for the entire season, they’re dangerously short on depth in the lineup and counting on a pitching staff in transition.
3.7 Runs Scored/Game — 8th in NL
The heart of Milwaukee’s Opening Day lineup looked tough, as would any that had sluggers Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez batting third and fourth. But it appears the Cubs might catch a bit of a break. The Brewers likely won’t get a 100 percent version of Braun as neck stiffness has kept the 2011 NL MVP out of action since April 3 and the North Siders will entirely duck Ramirez, who was recently placed on the DL with a knee sprain.
The injuries and lack of a strong bench will certainly take the Brewers’ 2012 league-leading offense down a peg in the early going, but skipper Ron Roenicke is one of the most active offensive tacticians around. He loves to get runners moving, bunt and slip in the occasional late-inning squeeze play to pressure opposing defenses. With young shortstop Jean Segura settling in, Roenicke might have a quartet of 30-steal players. In the absence of Hart’s power bat, it will be interesting to see if Milwaukee green-lights the running game even more aggressively. One key will be whether center fielder Carlos Gomez and catcher Jonathan Lucroy retain last year’s power gains as they hit their prime, age-27 seasons. If they don’t, things will likely get a whole lot worse for this lineup in 2013.
6.5 Runs Allowed/Game — 13th in NL
Yovani Gallardo is a familiar face at the front end of the rotation, and Lohse (who is slated to pitch against the Cubs Wednesday) should be solid after a few career years in St. Louis. But after that, there’s a whole lot of wish-casting. Can Chris Narveson come back from a torn rotator cuff? Will top prospects Wily Peralta and Mark Rogers break through? Has the NL caught up to Mike Fiers, who did well his first time around the league last year before fading late? With that many question marks, a career utility pitcher like Marco Estrada is sure to come in handy.
The bullpen has experienced some turnover as well. The Brew Crew brought in veteran lefties Mike Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny to set up John Axford. The hirsute closer will have to prove he’s back from a season in which he almost lost his job due to a rash of titanic home runs. But when Axford is on, his swing-and-miss stuff rates among the league’s best. The Brewers need him to be that pitcher again if they hope to contend.
ESPN SweetSpot’s Christina Kahrl, who contributes analysis to Vine Line and Vine Line Game Day Edition, discusses the reasons Cubs fans may or may not see Josh Vitters (left) and Brett Jackson (right) at Wrigley Field this September. (Photo by Stephen Green)
So the 2011 season isn’t going to involve a renewed bid for contention, and fans are understandably turning the page and wondering when they’ll get to see the organization’s top prospects getting called up. Chances are, you’ll be waiting for a while. The way baseball’s rules work, there are significant disincentives for the Cubs to add their best kids to the 40-man roster.
First, there’s the disincentive to bring somebody up if they’re not likely to make the team next spring. This is strictly economic: Why would a team unnecessarily grant a prospect already under team control early ignition on his service-time clock? Doing so now means very little in terms of improving the Cubs’ chances for 2011. By granting service time, the team is already putting the prospect down a path toward arbitration eligibility—and an escalating pay scale—while not necessarily guaranteeing the Cubs that they’ll control the player’s best seasons before free agency.
The second challenge for a player looking to get called up between now and Opening Day 2012 is the question of whether or not the Cubs need to protect him from the Rule 5 draft in December. Although a player taken in the Rule 5 draft would have to be kept on the big league roster all season or else offered back to his original organization, clubs prefer to avoid the risk of losing a prospect this way whenever possible. (more…)
Christina Kahrl, who writes for ESPN’s SweetSpot Blog and is a founding partner of Baseball Prospectus, contributed this preview of Game 3 starter Tim Lincecum in our Vine Line Game Day Edition program, available at Wrigley Field. Grab your official Wrigley Field scorecard for just $2 and catch Christina’s full look at the Cubs’ matchups every month.
“The Freak” may not throw as hard as he once did, but the short, slim righty is getting the same results from his classic fastball/slider/change combo. Lincecum’s still striking out more than a man an inning, cranking out quality starts two-thirds of the time or more, and every hard-hit ball represents a small moral victory for the batter. Whether with his fastball or his off-speed stuff, he rarely makes a mistake inside, and he’s able to snap off sliders and change-ups for strikes in hitter’s counts.After four years of relative indifference to baserunners—who swiped 77 bases in 90 attempts—Lincecum had benefitted from Posey catching. Now he may have a spot of vulnerability again.
Vine Line Game Day writer Christina Kahrl took a colleague to Sunday night’s Cubs vs. Yankees game at Wrigley Field and posted on ESPN’s SweetSpot blog that the Friendly Confines have it right where it counts—the fan experience.
After the game we ended up walking all the way to the furthest left-field corner, just to check out the view from all around the ballpark. Steph busily snapped pics throughout the evening, and walked away saying it had to be one of the best ballparks on the planet. I asked if she thought the place was a dump, and she responded that L.A. would be lucky to have a park this nice.
So where does dumping on Wrigley come from? From the people [media members] who work there, and who are used to something better these days. Certainly, those are the people most likely to say something about working in Wrigley and have it become “news.” Maybe the Ricketts can punch up the amenities for the players or the press by adding a building on the northwest corner of their block, up on the corner of Clark and Waveland, an idea that has been discussed in the past.
But coming out of Wrigley Field on Sunday night, I left with the expectation that I’ll have to get Steph back out to see Wrigley again to bring her around to my point of view — that is, to trim away the “one of” aspect of her first impression about best ballparks. But I also came out of the night thinking there’s nothing about Wrigley that merits dumping on it, certainly not from a spot in the stands.
Well worth a full read.
Christina Kahrl, who writes for ESPN’s SweetSpot Blog and is a founding partner of Baseball Prospectus, contributed this overview of the New York Yankees for the Vine Line Game Day Edition program, available at Wrigley Field. Grab your official Wrigley Field scorecard for just $2 and catch Christina’s full look at the Cubs’ matchups every month.
The last time the Yankees played in Wrigley Field was in 2003, their first visit to the Cubs’ home turf since the still-controversial “Called Shot” World Series of 1932, when—depending on who you want to believe—Babe Ruth either did or did not call a home run off Cubs pitcher Charlie Root in Game 3 of New York’s sweep. In 2003 as in 1932, the Cubs were a postseason-bound ballclub, but the ‘03 edition won their interleague series with the Bronx Bombers by taking two of three. With the Yankees looking to build a lead over the Red Sox and Rays in yet another three-legged AL East race, can the Cubs call the shots by putting a dent in their playoff hopes?
HITTING: With Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson dueling for the overall lead in home runs and Robinson Cano in the race for the RBIs lead, the Bombers bring a ton of firepower to the plate against righties. But their overall record against them was just above .500 (through early June)—it’s lefties they’ve been killing, winning 14 of 22 against them.
PITCHING: It’s a bend-don’t-break rotation helped by a better-than-average defense, and setup man David Robertson headlines a middle-relief crew that rates third in the majors in stranding inherited baserunners. All the better to hand leads off to another pinstriped immortal, closer Mariano Rivera.