Johnson promoted to director of pitching

Big league pitching coach will now oversee organization's philosophy on the mound

October 28th, 2021

CINCINNATI -- Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson has experience in college, Minor League player development and, of course, the big leagues. In a move announced by Cincinnati on Thursday, Johnson will be putting his entire background into one role.

The Reds gave Johnson the added title of director of pitching, while he will continue to serve as their pitching coach in the Major Leagues.

“We moved some things forward over the last couple of years. But at the end of the day, I felt D.J. was the best person to be in this role because I feel he’s one of the best pitching minds in baseball, if not the best,” Reds general manager Nick Krall said. “I think that from being able to drive the content and the curriculum from the Major League staff, and then working down through, was the best way to approach it. I thought he would be the best person to set it up to have success in the Minor Leagues as well.”

Johnson, who was already signed through 2022, received a contract extension as part of the promotion. Krall declined to specify the length of the new deal.

What will the added job duties entail for Johnson?
Johnson, 50, will be responsible for developing and communicating the Reds’ pitching philosophy from the Major League level down through the farm system. He is replacing Kyle Boddy, the organization’s former director of pitching, after Boddy and the team parted ways in September.

Like Boddy, Johnson is a big proponent of using analytics, sports science and technology to help pitchers improve.

“We have to look at this from the players' standpoint,” Johnson said. “We have to do what we think is in the best interest of our players, and we have to create as personalized of an approach for each of these guys so that we can maximize their talents.”

Johnson spent the past two weeks at the Reds' instructional league camp and met with many of the organization’s pitching coaches and managers. He is in the process of putting together a group of Minor League coordinators that will help him install initiatives and directives the organization wants taught to developing pitchers.

One coordinator, Bryan Conger, has already been retained from last year’s staff.

“From a day-to-day perspective, I think this winter is going to be really busy,” Johnson said. “I think it's making sure that, A, we agree upon certain things. That's not coming from me, that's coming from all over the place, including Nick. That's including Shawn Pender, our farm director, Brad Meador [assistant GM]. That's including our coaches, that's including the people we do have in that smaller circle of coordinators and agreeing upon a direction that we want to take this.

“I think from Spring training on, you're probably getting into a little bit of another ecosystem, if you will, where now we're pushing that content, we're making sure that we communicate that with all of those involved, No. 1, our players. But then the other folks -- our managers, our support staff, and just be able to communicate in both directions.”

How will Johnson stay on top of both roles?
Johnson acknowledged that once the Major League season begins, he will be less hands-on but still heavily involved on the development side.

“There is all the travel, the winning and losing, taking care of the 12 or 13 guys you have in-house, and certainly that has to be my priority at those times,” Johnson said. “I think there is more time in the day than what we give it credit for. It’s just having to utilize it from that end to do the best we can to communicate with that small team or that small group of people that are going to be sort of driving this from the ground up.”

What is Johnson’s background?
Johnson was the first hire onto manager David Bell’s coaching staff in October 2018, after three years as the Brewers’ pitching coach. With both franchises, he’s been credited with transforming the pitching staffs into some of the best in baseball -- especially their rotations.

From 2002-12, Johnson was the pitching coach at Vanderbilt University. From 2013-15, he was the Cubs' Minor League pitching coordinator.

“I feel like I’ve seen a lot of different levels of the game, whether that is recruiting a 15-year-old kid, whether that’s taking him from a freshman to a junior in college, whether it’s taking a kid from the Dominican to Double-A as a coordinator and tying it together with the Major League experience, I do feel like I have some things to offer from those perspectives.”