John Baker spent last season in the Cubs dugout after making the team out of Spring Training. Baker provided a memorable ending to the longest game in franchise history. Not only was Baker the winning pitcher in a 4-3 victory over the Rockies after tossing a scoreless 16th inning, Baker scored the winning on a Starlin Castro sacrifice fly.
John Baker was behind the plate when Kyle Hendricks and Dallas Beeler made their first pitch in the big leagues and with assistance from Eli Whiteside helped get Tsuyoshi Wada on track after his promotion from Iowa.
The Cubs former catcher, pitcher and off-season story breaker recently took time to answer a few questions from Chicago Cubs Online.
Rob Willer/Chicago Cubs Online: What are your impressions on some of the young pitchers, such as Dallas Beeler, Eric Jokisch and Kyle Hendricks?
John Baker: I was impressed with all three. That being said, all three are different. Kyle Hendricks is the most advanced of the three, but after catching Dallas Beeler in his Major League debut against the Nationals, I believe if given the same opportunity as Kyle, he may be able to put up similar ERA numbers. Dallas has the edge in velocity and sharpness of movement on his pitches, while Kyle has better command of all of his pitches and a more advanced understanding of what makes him successful. Kyle is very self-aware and understands what he needs to do to force soft contact. He has the mind of a composed veteran and a strong work ethic that allows him to perform at his best consistently. I think Beeler could put up the most prolific strike out numbers of the three and I was blown away by his ability to hold runners at first. He has a hard split/change downward mover to go with his contact pitches (sinker/cutter) and all three look similar out of the hand. He has a breaking ball as well, to me it is his fourth pitch that can be used when he needs a strike. His quick delivery allows him to keep people out of scoring position and to keep the double play in order. Very important for guys that throw sinkers. He may end up helping the Cubs in long relief or as a starter in the near future. Jokisch is distinctly different but exhibits all of the qualities that you want from a left handed starter. He has enough velocity, an above average change up, a slider and curveball that when used at the right time are above average pitches as well. He also does all of the little things that lefties must do in order to contribute at the big league level, he stays down in the strike zone, uses his change to keep right handed hitters off balance and is learning how to properly use both breaking pitches (the slider is still his work in progress). He also not afraid of contact, or pitching inside – that fearlessness will really be an asset in the future. Kyle has established himself as a member of any rotation in the Big Leagues and I hope the other two get the same opportunity, may not be right now, or in Chicago.
JB: All four stuff-wise could close for sure, but Hector is the best suited for it personality wise. Strop and Neil are very emotional players, which is a good thing in short term relief, and I think Grimm could actually be better suited as a starter (he has the right body type and care free mind set). Hector is emotional too, but seems to keep it a little closer to the vest than Pedro and Neil. He also seems to me to be the craziest, and when it comes to closers, crazy is good. I was overwhelmingly impressed with all four as players and teammates and while my analysis may not be quantifiable, because of having worked with them last year my sense of them is qualify-able. They chose the right man for the job last year, it’s his job to lose.
RW/CCO: Can Tsuyoshi Wada be effective in middle relief?
JB: Wada could absolutely be effective in middle relief, he was effective as a starter last year. I don’t know what their plans are for him moving forward, but he should be afforded some sort of opportunity after what he did last year.
RW/CCO: Did Travis Wood just have a bad year, or is he in trouble to make the rotation?
JB: Woody definitely didn’t have the kind of year he expected to have and I believe he will be competing for a rotation spot in Spring Training. Travis is a dogged competitor and perhaps being around another cutter throwing lefty like Lester will help get him back to 2013 All-Star form. Travis is one of those stubborn, southern bull-dogs that sometimes has to make the same mistake and beat his head against a wall for a while before he allows himself to grow and change. That sentiment is what brings him success and gives him trouble. It’s also the thing I respect the most about him. I do think that when backed into a corner he is at his best and most dangerous. Tell him he can’t do something and he will do his damnedest to prove you wrong. I hope he springs back and has a strong ’15.
RW/CCO: How much impact will Jason Hammel have?
JB: If Jason pitches like he did last year as a Cub he will have a huge impact. When he is pairing that downhill fastball with his slider he is a tough match up for any MLB hitter. Hopefully he can get comfortable with Montero or Ross and continue to do what he did last year. His time in a Cub uniform should have given him the blue print he needs to do well in the future. Being back with Bosio, Strode and Borzello only helps him.
RW/CCO: How often did Jason Hammel throw his cutter?
JB: Jason Hammel doesn’t throw a cutter. He is – 4seamFB/2seamFB/SL/CB/CH. If you mean slider, he threw it all the time. He would occasionally throw the CB early for a strike or the CH late in a long at bat, but his bread and butter were 4 seamer and slider off the same line.
(Note: Four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, slider (SL), curveball (CB) and changeup (CH) are the pitches Hammel throws)
RW/CCO: What does Mike Borzello add to Chris Bosio’s instruction/coaching and vice versa?
JB: Borz and Bos work together. Bosio focuses more on pitching mechanics and in-game adjustments, while Borzello handles more of the work on the scouting report. Chris had so much experience as a Major League pitcher, and he does a great job of teaching pitchers how to make appropriate adjustments. It is very tough for a pitcher to change something mechanical during competition, but Bosio always seems to offer practical, applicable advice. It ranges from what to do in between innings to what to look at or something completely different to think about. There is a reason they call him “The Wizard.” Borzello is very blue collar in his approach, he watches tremendous amounts of video, and is willing to put in any amount of time helping the catchers. He also brings the experience of having been on the Yankees staff under Joe Torre in the 90s. When he talked about how they (those winning NYY teams) handled business, I listened. I am very fortunate to have spent time with both of them.
RW/CCO: What is it like to work with Chris Bosio?
JB: I had a lot of fun working with Bosio, I learned a lot about pitching and coaching pitchers from him. I always enjoy spending time with the Baseball lifers like him, great stories, a salty attitude and years of experience made for a lot of laughs and learning moments.
RW/CCO: Can you explain the information Mike Borzello provides to the pitchers and catchers in the scouting reports?
JB: I’ll start by saying the Mike’s process was very involved and I don’t want to divulge any of his trade secrets, so in a nutshell, Mike would watch ALL of the recent video along with video of our pitchers last appearances against the team we were playing, and then compare what he came up with to the reports of our advanced scouts (both form MLB catchers Adam Melhuse and Kyle Phillips). He put in so much time that I trusted the information implicitly. He also allowed me the freedom to trust my personal instincts when calling a game. My experience in the minor leagues (6 1/2 years before an MLB call-up) taught me how to learn on the fly with no scouting reports and put pitchers into situations where their success was likely. Borzello has been talking/learning/living getting people out for so long at the highest level that I feel he is an undervalued asset. Whatever he makes, he should probably make more! He also worked with us (the catchers) tirelessly on whatever we thought we needed or he thought we needed. Like Bosio, I learned a lot from Borzello as well.