CubsHQ 2019 Preview Part 2 (Cont.): Cornering the Coaches


by - Columnist -
Jake Roth - USA Today Sports
Jake Roth - USA Today Sports

With the bench, hitting and assistant hitting coach’s spots filled, it’s time to take a look at how the Cubs intend to cover the coaching duties for the pitching staff and the base paths.

While many felt that Jim Hickey would be fired following the 2018 season, Hickey wound up stepping down on his own, for what he cited as “personal reasons.” No further explanation was given by either Hickey or the team, although a source told me that “Hickey had some personal issues that he needed to seek help for.”

Throughout the 2018 season, there seemed to be some sort of disconnect between Hickey, the pitchers, and the infielders, as was evidenced by what looked to be nothing short of disinterest during mound visits. Seldom did mound visits seem to yield the intended results, and evidence of displeasure could be seen on the faces of all.

With Jim Hickey out, the Cubs turned to a familiar face in Tommy Hottovy and named him as Hickey’s successor on December 6th. Hottovy had been serving as the Cubs’ Run Prevention Coordinator, a position he had held since 2014, and was already familiar with the pitching staff, making him a favorite for the position from the start.

Hottovy is a man that believes in analytics and thinks that the key to using that information is to be able to present it to the pitchers in a way that makes sense. Statistics don’t generally lie and being able to tap into that information may be crucial for the starters and bullpen alike.

Although this is Hottovy’s first assignment as a coach, the 37-year-old is certainly no stranger to the game. After playing NCAA ball at Wichita State, Hottovy was drafted by the Red Sox in the fourth round of 2004. It took him a total of seven years, but he was finally called up to the majors in 2011. Although he had solid reasonably performances in his eight outings for Boston, the team designated him for assignment later that same year. Hottovy would be picked up by several teams (including the Cubs) over the next few years, things just never worked out for him as a major league pitcher. Finally, after being injured in 2014, Hottovy set his mind on coaching. With his retirement as a player, Hottovy joined the Cubs’ front office the same year and hasn’t looked back.

Many believe that Hottovy is the key to turning Yu Darvish around and that he may even be the one who is able to straighten Tyler Chatwood out. With the Cubs total investment of $164M between the two pitchers, successful seasons by both in 2019 and beyond are imperative.

Working with Hottovy this season, with the added title of associate pitching coach, is Mike Borzello. Borzello has served as the catching coach with the Cubs since 2011 but had his role extended this season, due to his long-time relationship with Hottovy.

Also returning, to no one’s surprise, will be bullpen coach, Lester Strode. Seemingly the only permanent fixture on the Cubs’ coaching staff, Strode will now enter his twelfth season as the bullpen coach, although he has been with the organization since 1989. Previously, Strode served in the Cubs farm system as everything from a pitching coach to the pitching coordinator, before being called up to Chicago for the bullpen coach’s spot, starting in 2007.

The base coaches have also remained the same for 2019, with Will Venable at first base and Brian Butterfield at third. Both men will be entering their second season with the team.

While the Cubs have made multiple changes on the field with regard to coaches, they have also hired for jobs behind the scenes. Former Cub, Chris Denorfia, will now serve as the Quality Assurance Coach, and former Cub, Bob Tewksbury, has been hired to head the Mental Skills Department for the team. After receiving a Master’s in psychology in 2004, Tewksbury began serving in the same position for the Red Sox, where he stayed for several years before coming to the Cubs.

Stay tuned. Next up, the starting rotation.

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