(By Josh Romans/Louisville Bats)
LOUISVILLE, KY – Last Thursday, Reds Vice President and General Manager, Nick Krall, announced that Cincinnati Pitching Coach Derek Johnson will assume the additional role of Director of Pitching for the organization – A role which will heavily influence the development of the pitching staff of
(By Josh Romans/Louisville Bats)
LOUISVILLE, KY – Last Thursday, Reds Vice President and General Manager, Nick Krall, announced that Cincinnati Pitching Coach Derek Johnson will assume the additional role of Director of Pitching for the organization – A role which will heavily influence the development of the pitching staff of the Louisville Bats.
“The advancements we have made in our development, analytics, and sport science departments are continuing to evolve and we see [Johnson’s new role] as us continuing to improve,” Krall said during a recent press conference, revealing the news. “Promoting D.J. to this role where he can take a look at our entire pitching department is exactly where we want to go.”
After playing baseball for Eastern Illinois University, Johnson took over as their pitching coach in 1994, shortly after graduating. He continued coaching college baseball for EIU, Southern Illinois University and eventually Vanderbilt – alma matter of 2021 Bats reliever Carson Fulmer – where he was named the 2010 ABCA/Baseball America Assistant Coach of the Year.
He left college baseball to become the minor league pitching coordinator for the Chicago Cubs in 2012, which kickstarted his career in the Majors. He has since also served as pitching coach for the Milwaukee Brewers before ultimately landing in Cincinnati, where he added to his baseball-centric accolades in 2019 as Baseball America’s Major League Coach of the Year.
“Using knowledge gained during my college career [and background with the MLB], I have seen a lot of different levels of the game; from recruiting kids in high school, to helping a kid develop during his college career starting as a freshman, or taking a kid from the Dominican to Double-A and then tying in the Major League experience,” said Johnson, who now will serve atop the pipeline that culminates with hurlers in Louisville. “I feel that I have some good things to offer from those perspectives.”
Johnson certainly has plenty to work with, as the Reds minor league organization touts some of the best young pitching in baseball. During the 2021 season, the Louisville Bats pitching staff ranked among the top 10 teams in Triple-A East in hits (5th), opponent batting average (6th), ERA (8th) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (8th). The team also led the Minors in ERA from July 4 - Sept. 6 (54-game stretch) and set franchise marks for opponent batting average, strikeout-to-walk ratio, hits-per-nine-innings and strikeouts-per-nine-innings.
Two potentially crucial future pieces of the Reds organization’s pitching staff also made their Bats debut in 2021 in RHP Hunter Greene and LHP Nick Lodolo, who are respectively ranked No. 1 and No. 2, according to MLB.com’s Reds prospect rankings.
Since making his first start on June 17, Greene allowed the third-fewest hits and sixth-fewest earned runs among all Triple-A starters who accumulated 65+ innings over that span. After his record-breaking season debut with Double-A Chattanooga where 37 of his 43 fastballs were clocked at 100+ MPH, the flame-throwing right-hander continued to regularly reach triple-digits on the radar gun for the Bats for the remainder of the season.
Lodolo also made a splash this season, retiring all three batters he faced in 2021’s MLB Futures Game, including former No. 2 overall draft pick Bobby Witt Jr. Prior to the Future’s Game, the southpaw achieved a 1.84 ERA, .196 opponent AVG and struck out 68 over 10 games with Double-A Chattanooga in 2021. He flashed his top-level talent during a brief stint with the Bats late last season, including nearly tossing an immaculate inning on Aug. 22 vs. Gwinnett, before being shut down in the final stretches of August to close out the year.
“The challenge, in my mind, will be developing the talent that we have already started working on,” Johnson said in his Zoom press conference. “There have been some really great things that have happened for us in our minor league system. We have pitchers who have gotten better, and we have driven some initiatives that we didn’t have when I first got here. We have some really great pieces [for the future].”
Krall made it clear that he is very excited about the new position and thinks that they couldn’t have given it to a better candidate.
“At the end of the day, I felt that D.J. was the best person to be in this role because I feel that he is one of the best pitching minds in baseball, if not the best.”