At least two new coaches will be added to the Cubs staff for the 2024 season. Sources confirmed that bullpen coach Chris Young and game strategy/catching coach Craig Driver will not have their contracts renewed for next year.
Young has a diverse background as a minor-league pitcher, a scout with multiple organizations and even served as pitching coach with the Philadelphia Phillies for one year. During his four seasons with the Cubs, he was lauded for his work with relievers and had a good working relationship with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and the coaching staff in general.
Driver earned praise for his ability to help develop catchers, especially their framing. While Willson Contreras never became a great framer, he did improve significantly in 2020, Driver’s first year on the job. Driver coached first base his first season with the team, but eventually shifted roles to focus on catchers and game-planning within the pitching infrastructure.
Hottovy and assistant pitching coach Daniel Moskos are both expected to return next season in the same roles. Danny Hultzen, the team’s major league pitching strategist, is expected to remain in the organization but his role and title could shift as they continue to fill out the staff. Sources indicated that neither Young nor Driver were pushed out because of poor performance or a specific issue. After a few years of the bullpen being a team strength, the unit struggled both early and late this season (though they ended the year with a solid 3.85 ERA), but that should not be placed on Young.
Rather, with manager David Ross entering his fifth season at the helm and a front office that continues to evolve under team president Jed Hoyer, it appears some philosophical shifts are occurring. Both Driver and Young had been a part of Ross’ staff since he was hired prior to the 2020 season and earned positive reviews. But as Ross has grown in his role, he’s had more time to identify what he values and needs in each position on his coaching staff.
The organization will look to hire two new coaches, likely one with a catching background and another with a game-planning/pitching background. During his time with the Boston Red Sox, Ross worked with bullpen coaches who had catching backgrounds in both Gary Tuck and Dana Levangie, so he wouldn’t be averse to a similar setup. But either way, the Cubs will add a coach who will work with the catchers on their defense and controlling the running game, and another who will have a more pitching-oriented approach.
The Cubs will look at internal candidates but will also interview outside voices, which may be the most likely outcome — they’re looking for diverse ideas and skill sets that the coaching staff doesn’t currently have. Hottovy has proven to be a great communicator and thrives when helping pitchers make all sorts of mechanical adjustments. Moskos’ presence has solidified the pitch design and pitch shape aspect of the coaching staff. Focusing solely on the newer-school philosophies may not be necessary in this search.
One thing multiple sources noticed with the young relievers called up this season was how they didn’t seem to understand how to best prepare for the daily grind of performing at the highest level. That doesn’t fall solely on the coaching staff, though, and it’s not just a Cubs issue. Over the last decade, certain aspects of pitching, like pitch shapes, mechanics and increasing velocity, have taken precedence over elements like game prep, holding runners and executing in big moments.
Whether player development staffs adjust or not in the future, it’s something big-league coaches need to focus on now. They have to help these pitchers fine-tune those less flashy areas while player development molds pitchers with better “stuff.” That means helping players understand what it means to perform in the big leagues, how to be a good teammate, how to acclimate to the travel, what it means to be available regularly out of the bullpen and other important intangibles.
Some of this could also be rectified by adding more accomplished veterans to the bullpen. The Cubs lagged there this past season thanks to Brad Boxberger’s injury and Michael Fulmer’s relatively limited experience as a reliever. In previous seasons, veterans like Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Chafin, Chris Martin and Mychal Givens were able to guide young relievers, directly and indirectly.
With more young pitching talent coming up through the Cubs system, every small detail has to be addressed. Having the right coaches in place and bringing in veterans who can lead by example may not be more important than adding impact talent, but addressing these areas and focusing on the minutiae is how good organizations become great.
(Top photo of David Ross, Tommy Hottovy and Craig Driver: Nuccio DiNuzzo / Getty Images)