Phil Rogers of The Chicago Tribune had a piece earlier this week reporting on the hiring of Derek Johnson by the Cubs. A good majority of fans will not recognize the name. Johnson was lured away from Vanderbilt University, where he had been a highly regarded pitching coach.
Cubs fans in Chicago who double as Bears fans will immediately think of Jay Cutler and Earl Bennett when they hear Vanderbilt. But even casual baseball fans will recognize the name David Price, winner of the 2012 Cy Young Award. Price was developed under Johnson at Vanderbilt, and the Tampa Bay lefty highlights a list of six pitchers drafted in the first round during Johnson’s time at the university.
While Johnson is not a household name yet, his body of work is well known in the college circuit, having turned down many head coaching offers to continue the role he enjoys the most: working directly with young pitchers. However the Illinois native apparently could not turn down an opportunity with the home state Cubs. Formerly a high school pitcher himself with dreams of making the big leagues, the opportunity to gain his first professional baseball coaching experience in Chicago was too hard to pass up. Having grown up watching the Cubs, he looks forward to living the dream of winning a World Series with the Cubs, according to Rogers.
Johnson’s role will focus on developing the young pitching arms the Cubs currently have in the system, as well as the first round draft picks that are to come. While the 2012 calendar year has not quite come to a close, the early word is that the Cubs front office is already looking to take a starting pitcher with their first round selection in June. One likely available name fans will remember from last year’s draft is Mark Appel, a Scott Boras client. Another name to keep in mind is Sean Manaea.
But while we are on the topic of remembering names, Cubs fans interested in the long term success of the club may want to keep Johnson’s name in their memory bank as well. While current pitching coach Chris Bosio certainly has done nothing wrong in his first year on the North Side to warrant speculation over losing his job, Johnson could easily make his way up the ranks in the Cubs system as a coach. It would not be a stretch to see Johnson follow a core group of his prodigies to Wrigley Field in a few years.