last month the cardinals named dyar miller, the pitching coach at memphis for the last 7 years, to replace mark riggins as the cardinals' minor-league pitching coordinator. that was hardly an insignificant move; riggins had held the post for 13 years. to put that into perspective, riggins was the pitching coordinator when matt morris got drafted . . . . . he was there a long time. riggins was offered miller's old job as the memphis pitching coach, but he opted to leave the organization (where he spent the last 29 years); a couple weeks ago the cubs named him their new minor-league coordinator.
miller worked under riggins as the assistant coordinator from 1997 through 2000 and has been a frequent guest here at VEB; see my first interview with him for a brief bio (as well as some comments about wainwright and haren that are kind of interesting to look back on). my thanks to the coach for taking the time to chat; best of luck to him in his new job.
How did the change in assignment come about? Was it something you were seeking? Where did the impetus come from?
Well, I don't know. I think Jeff [Luhnow] initiated it. He wanted to change a few things. He's been around for a couple of years and made some observations, and he wanted to make some changes. And I was open to it because, to be quite honest, I've been in Memphis for 7 years --- longest place I've ever been --- and I was ready for a change. Change is good. I've never officially been a pitching coordinator, but I was Riggie's assistant for 4 years, from '97 through 2000. I covered the lower levels. And at that time I thought we were doing some pretty good things. [Ankiel, Looper, and Bud Smith were among the pitchers in the system at that time.] And Jeff has brought in Brent Strom to help me out with some things, so I think that'll be great.
Brent Strom, the former San Diego pitcher, is going to be your assistant coordinator?
He's gonna be in charge of mechanics. Well, to be truthful, a lot of things are open now. We're gonna have some meetings here in the next couple of weeks, and we'll get some more stuff nailed down. But I've been with Brent to the Domincan already last week and we had a great time, we hit it off ok. He's got some great things going, and I think he'll be alright. I don't know if our roles are really set in stone yet or not. It's just something we've gotta sit down and talk over in the next couple of weeks.
Describe what a minor-league coordinator does on a day-to-day basis. What's a typical work day like?
First of all, it's a 367-day-a-year job. It's year-round. It slices up into different areas, different times of the year. Probably one of our busiest times is spring training. You coordinate the pitching every day. You meet with all your pitchers in the morning. All your pitching coaches have a daily schedule, you get your pitchers on a program. Getting everybody in shape for the season doesn't just happen. You do some instructing, but when you've got 90 pitchers running around you're really just trying to keep everything organized and get everybody in shape.
Once the season starts, it's actually a lot simpler. What you do is you rove around --- 5 days with one team, 5 days with another one, then come home for 3 or 4 days, and then go back out for another 10 days. We've got 9 minor-league teams, including the Domincan and Venezuelan rookie teams, so that'll keep me pretty busy. We've got a nice program going down in the Dominican. Jose Oquendo and I went down there in 2000; that's the last time I'd been. Things have improved immensely down there. They've got some nice arms down there, and the conditions are a lot better. Jeff's done a great job with that down there. We're gonna get some players out of that thing.
You mentioned that you'll do a little bit of hands-on instruction during spring training and ---
I'll do a little bit during spring training, but it can be a touchy issue. Instruction in spring training is a Catch 22. You've got guys trying to make teams. If you throw a lot of instruction at a guy, changing mechanics and so forth, and this guy's fighting to make a team and then he doesn't make it, it puts you in a bad light [in the player's mind]. When you're making changes with a guy, it usually takes a few weeks to show the benefits of it. It may take longer than that. You don't just correct it overnight. You might show him a new grip or something like that, but I don't think it's a good place to make major changes --- unless you've got a younger pitcher who knows where he's gonna be, he's gonna be on a certain team regardless. So instruction in spring training is a little bit different. We'll probably just hand-pick a few guys who we want to zero in on --- Brent will hammer those guys, I'll work with them a little bit. We want to make sure everybody's on the same page --- all the instructors, all the coaches. Basically what we want to do --- and I don't want to get too involved in it, because we're about to have all these meetings --- is work on mechanics at a little younger age. Stress that a little bit more when they first come into the organization. And perhaps --- I don't want to get out of line here, but focus on a certain type of mechanics in the draft a little more too. I might be speaking out of turn.
What's the type you'd like the team to focus on?
What we're gonna try to teach is natural mechanics --- classic mechanics where you're using your body properly. It's kind of like a kid when he first learns to play baseball --- his first throw is the purest one he'll ever make.
I'm not sure I know what "natural mechanics" refers to. Is there a pitcher out there who exemplifies what you're talking about?
It's about rotation, turning your hips, using your body to get behind the pitch. I concentrate on the core area of the body --- a lot of those good pitchers have big cores. The hips --- that's where a lot of your power comes from, your legs. We try to get them to use those properly, try to get guys moving down the hill, and rotating the hips and the shoulders correctly. That'll give you a little more power, and it'll keep you injury free. And hopefully it'll give you some better control. I like angles and planes as well. And I like deception, I think that's a big part of it --- you try to stay closed as long as you can. You try to release the ball as close to home plate as you can without sacrificing your power. Some people teach getting as quick as you can and rotating like a merry-go-round; we're not advocating that type of thing.
Who are a few pitchers who have the type of mechanics that you prefer?
Clemens is one. Schilling's got them.
So when I picture those guys, I think of pitchers who stay very compact in their delivery and then explode toward the plate at the last instant.
Now you're talking. That's what we're trying to do. And we're not trying to clone everyone. If we tried to teach that to Mark Worrell, we'd be peeing into the wind. And again that's where the draft comes in, and hopefully we can draft guys who fit this mold. But we've got some nice young arms in the lower levels from what I understand. That's what I'm gonna need to do is learn some of the players. Spring training's gonna be a learning experience for me. I'm just gonna be doing a lot of observation, getting to know some of these guys.
You've mentioned the draft a couple of times --- will you have a role in the draft? Will you see the scouting reports and the video, and have the chance to offer an opinion? Sure. Mark used to see the scouting reports, and I saw them and read them when I was his assistant. I was the first one to meet them after we signed them. I think Mark sat in on the draft last year. We've got video now, you know. Video's getting really big. Strommie uses it a lot, and Mark used it quite a bit. We get video of these guys, and we analyze that before that draft. I think video's very important. From a personal point of view, I never saw video of myself until later in my career, and I couldn't believe it. It was 1979 the first time that I saw it, and I'd been pitching for 11 years. I couldn't recognize those terrible mechanics that I had. It wasn't too pretty. But it got the job done.
And in terms of the draft, when you talk about drafting a certain type of pitcher --- are you referring at all to the 2-seam / 4-seam issue that's been talked about so much? Is it about drafting guys who throw the sinker or keep the ball down?
No. All I'm talking about is drafting athletic, preferably big guys with strong arms. You know, they don't have to have size but I prefer them if they're a little bit bigger. If you start from there, you can make some adjustments.
So it sounds like a prototype might be a pitcher like Mitch Boggs --- he's 6'5" or so, can get it into the mid-90s ---
Yeah. He throws good. I like him. I've seen him throw in spring training. He looks good.
Have you had a chance to watch PJ Walters, who does not necessarily fit that profile you're describing?
Haven't seen him.
What about Ottavino?
I like him. He throws it pretty good.
I wanted to ask you about a couple of guys you worked with at Memphis last year. One of them is Blake Hawksworth. He had that great year in 2006 and got off to a very good start last year; for the first couple of months he pitched very well. There was even some discussion of calling him up. And then it just kind of fell apart for him over the last 3 months. What did you observe in terms of the cause of that? Did his shoulder start to wear down? Did the league just catch up to him?
I think he was a little tender most of the year. What we did early is we got him to establish his fastball. And I think by the end of May he was about 6th or 7th in the league in ERA. [Through May 31 --- 10 starts, 57.1 innings --- Hawksworth had an ERA of 2.98.] He was throwing a lot of sinkers and getting quick outs, his pitch counts were low. And then I don't know if batters got onto him, but they started waiting him out; they stopped swinging at first pitches.
Was he getting beat on mistakes, or were they hitting his best stuff?
I think he started to get some pitches up, and maybe his pitch selection was a little off. They were looking for his sinker, and they hammered some of those. He pitched in some bad luck, too. He almost overanalyzes. He wants to be too fine, kind of like throwing darts. I tried to get him to just let the ball go. I just think he needs to get a little momentum going and not worry so much about being perfect. He's got a pretty decent curve, his changeup's one of his best pitches, and his fastball's getting a little better. It's starting to come back. There were a couple games toward the end of the year where it averaged 92, which is pretty good. My hope is that he'll be 100 percent healthy this year. He can pitch in the big leagues.
Really when you think about it, since he came back from his shoulder surgery he's had a year and two months of good pitching, and then 2 or 3 months where he struggled --- but that bad stretch knocked him completely off the radar. He never gets mentioned anymore as one of the team's better pitching prospects.
Sometimes it's better to be off the radar. He might surprise you.
The other guy I wanted to ask you about has been under the radar pretty much ever since he joined the organization, and that's Mike Parisi. I've read that he has some supporters within the organization. What's your opinion of him? Does he have enough weapons to pitch in the majors?
I'm one of his supporters. He's got 3 pitches that are average to above-average major-league pitches. His curveball's definitely an out pitch, his changeup is solid, and his fastball is average --- and I think it can get better. His command needs to get better with his fastball, his location. That's what we worked on most of the year. We made some mechanical adjustments on him, too.
What changes did you make?
Without getting too technical, he was one-sided --- he was only throwing to one side of the plate. Now he's getting the ball inside to lefties. His command of his fastball's not quite there yet, but he's made some great progress. He's just like Hawkie --- works hard and likes to compete. I'll tell you what, those two kids --- they were awesome about doing their work and paying attention to detail. They've got that makeup that you look for in big-league pitchers. They want to come to spring training and battle. I told them to go up there and battle for that #5 spot in the rotation. Of course, it's up to Tony and Dunc whether they make it or not. But they're hungry, and that's what we like to see.
Will you be involved in handing out assignments, as far as which guy begins the season at which level?
That'll be a group decision between Jeff and me and all the coaches. Dunc may get involved in some of that too. He should. It's important to have continuity from Tony and Dunc all the way on through. They're the top dogs; they gotta tell us what to do, in a way.
What's your opinion of the 8-man rotation that was used at Quad Cities last year?
It's ok. I think it's better at the lower levels. But here's what I'd like to see. I'm not saying we baby guys, but I'd like to see pitchers go through the 7th and 8th inning more often. When they get into trouble, leave them in there to fight through it. Because that's what they're gonna have to do in the big leagues. I'm more for that at double A and triple A --- let them fight through some of those jams. Let them throw 120 pitches a couple of times in a row. Let relief pitchers throw 2 or 3 innings at a time instead of 1 inning here and 1 inning there. That's something we need to talk about as an organization; I'm just giving my opinion. But it's a lot tougher to pitch in the big leagues, so you gotta be tough. Make pitching down here a little more like it's gonna be up in the big leagues; don't make it so easy on them. I know we're overprotective because we don't want to get them hurt, but I think if we straighten out their mechanics they can pitch better and more.
Baseball's changing. There's more emphasis on the minor leagues now, player development. We've gotta keep up with the times and be on the cutting edge on some things.