Carlos Archila@carchila1: How does the hitting and pitching infrastructure work through the different levels? How are they making adjustments and how is the need to make adjustments communicated? Daily updates? Weekly updates? I’m just curious on how a player develops and continues to develop.
The best analogy I can come up with about how the Cubs development system works is that it is like a cake with several layers. At the top you have the Director of Player Development and the Directors of Hitting and Pitching. Underneath them are roving coordinators who travel among the four affiliates as well as those permanently in Mesa at Sloan Park. The roving instructors include guys for hitting, pitching, infield, outfield, catching, and baserunning. Then there are managers and multiple coaches at each level along tech guys along the way.
Every winter and spring, each player is given a development plan or a list of things to work over the winter or during the season. Most of those lists are generated through the Cubs’ MiLB management. The player also has some input to create buy-in.
The Cubs follow up in the winter as the player can upload data and video to their coordinator during the winter. There is a back-and-forth as the goals are discussed. It’s not like the season ends and the two sides don’t see each other until spring training. Instead, there’s constant communication combined with camps during the offseason.
During the regular season, it Is at each affiliate where most of the action and adjustments take place. In 2021, each affiliate had a manager, a pitching coach, a hitting coach, and what was referred to as a development coach as well as a strength coach. Some affiliates also had an assistant hitting coach. In addition, each affiliate had its own tech coordinator who set up cameras before each game and processed the data using several different software programs. That data was then sent to the aforementioned management along with a Manager’s daily report of each game.
So, between all those people at the affiliates, the data, and organizational structure, you would think there’s a smooth order of operations.
Well, it is not always that easy.
There’s some tinkering done during during the season. Sometimes, hitting coaches just work on situational hitting rather than the mechanics. That works well when it is applied in games. On the other hand, pitching coaches work on small things to help the pitchers repeat their delivery and keep the pitcher on track with his plan.
One interesting story that highlights how random things can be was that the decision to move outfielder Brandon Hughes to the bullpen. That idea was actually brought about by the hitting coach at South Bend, Paul McAnulty. It pays to know your players and their past as Brandon pitched some in college at Michigan State. Since then, he’s become a legit reliever with a shot to get to Chicago in the net year or two.
For most of the hitters, they tend to be their own hitting coach. They know their swing better than anyone and they can tell when something is wrong. The hitting coaches focus more on approach and putting the player into a mental space where they can succeed.
Strangely enough, catchers also play a major role in pitching development. Depending upon the catcher’s experience, I’ve seen bullpen sessions suddenly grind to a stop as a catcher gets up, marches to the rubber in the pen, and talks to a pitcher. After the chat, an adjustment is made and I’ve seen pitchers takeoff after said discussions.
Behind the scenes, daily reports are filed by the manager who sends them to the directors of the farm system. Things are discussed including data, film, performance, and attitude.
Sometimes, things can be quite contentious between a player and the coaching staff. One problem that happens most often is when a player thinks they should be moved up. That happens all the time. In other words, egos are sometimes a problem.
You would think that with all those people having input that it would be hard for the player to focus. But it’s it’s really not because the organization tries to have one person do most of the communicating with the player. It could be the pitching or hitting coach, the developmental coach, or it could even be the catcher. Sometimes, it was the manager. Buddy Bailey is a very hands-on manager who I loved to watch in pre-game as he focused on skill development. Michael Ryan, who was at South Bend in 2021, had a different style but focused on limiting mental mistakes in games.
And to be quite frank, usually the best steps in development come from between the players.
A prospect will see something work with one guy and they want to try it themselves to see if they’ll get the same results. That happens a lot in pitching, especially when it comes to grips and it also happens a lot in hitting when it comes to pre-pitch routines and where the hands are and things like toe taps. You would think bats and their weights would be an issue, but most hitters are pretty superstitious about switching bats.
As you can see, there are a lot of people who can actually help develop a player.
However, coaches don’t want to be bugging the players all the time either. Prospects still have to be able to focus and go out there on a daily basis. You can’t be talking to a hitter and constantly adjusting their swing every day and the same holds true for a pitcher’s delivery or grips. These things are usually done over the winter so that when they come back in the spring everything feels natural and maybe some minor tweaks are done. Last year, we saw the Cubs use something called a “Development List” to rework Max Bain and a couple other pitchers.
A lot of the changes the Cubs have done the last few years have been to catch up with the times. Now, things are much more technical and data oriented in terms of video, the lexicon, and numbers. Some players like that and some players don’t.
The old adage of the old pitching coach reminding a pitcher to stay on top of the ball when throwing his curve is really about generating more spin and downward break or what the players now refer to as vertical movement and spin rate. It’s all the same thing. It is just different terminology. The tech can measure it more accurately today. The tech puts the effects into images and data the players understand. The fundamentals of the game itself have not really changed. They just have new names and new numbers for the old adages.