Derek Johnson is as good of an example as any on the New Balance Baseball Series Future Stars Series advisory board that hard work pays off.
An all-conference left-handed pitcher at Eastern Illinois University, Johnson stayed on as their pitching coach after graduating and eventually moved on to Southern Illinois and then Stetson in a similar capacity. Quickly earning respect and recognition for what he was doing with those staffs and being ahead of the game with how he approached pitching, he moved on to the prestigious Vanderbilt program for eleven years in 2002, where he worked with future first-rounders like David Price, Sonny Gray, Mike Minor and Casey Weathers.
Johnson earnied ABCA/Baseball America Assistant Coach of the Year honors in 2010 along the way, and his stock kept rising and rising on the pro ball scene before he ultimately took a job as the Chicago Cubs minor league pitching coordinator prior to the start of the 2013 season.
Johnson helped build up a staff that would win a World Series in 2016, but he’d left that previous off-season to take yet another step up as the big league pitching coach for the Milwaukee Brewers. After two years there, he accepted a similar position with his current team, the Cincinnati Reds, and was named Baseball America’s big league coach of the year in 2019.
But the climb still isn’t done.
This past off-season, Johnson added “director of pitching” to his duties, and was signed to a contract extension to stay in Cincinnati for the foreseeable future.
A published author — he wrote “The Complete Guide to Pitching,” which has served as a bible of sorts to arms both young and old, a comprehensive and extremely well-reviewed guide that also features a DVD component — Johnson is the epitome of a grinder, and provides an extremely valuable and tangible presence not only to whatever organizations he’s been with, but the Future Stars Series advisory board as well.
“Derek Johnson and I go back to 2008,” said Future Stars Series president and CEO Jeremy Booth. “I was an area scout for the Twins, and he was the pitching coach at Vanderbilt. There was an instant connection, instant respect, and it was very apparent that the work he was doing was going to change baseball and how pitching was developed and evaluated. If you watch what he’s done and the systems he’s built, he’s been ahead of the game at every turn. He doesn’t sacrifice yesterday for today, he’s very progressive and methodical in how he centers each player and how he builds arm strength and how he encompasses throwing with actual pitching and execution. It’s why his staffs, year in and year out, are the best at any level.
“I remember sitting with DJ when I was an area scout with Milwaukee the next year, we were sitting at a tournament in Texas somewhere, and that fit for him because he’s that kind of grinder. We’re sitting in the stands and we’re talking, and I sat with him, and I said, ‘You know pro ball is going to come for you, when’s that going to happen.’ And he looked at me and said, ‘No, it’s not going to happen, I’m staying right here at Vandy.’ And I said, ‘Look, I love Corbs (Tim Corbin), I love Maggie (Corbin), they’re family and they’ve treated me exceptionally well throughout the years. And it’s a different level of loyalty for you, I understand, but what I do know is pro ball is going to come for you.’
“Sure enough, later on down the line, he gets a gig, and I remember seeing him in spring training when he was with the Cubs as their coordinator, and then I saw him again with the Brewers. It’s an honor to know Derek Johnson, it’s a pleasure to know Derek Johnson. He’s one of the best human beings I’ve ever met, and it’s hard not to think about when our paths crossed so many years ago, watching what he’s done, to not be thankful for who he is as a person and the support he’s thrown here and to me personally. It’s far beyond a baseball relationship with DJ, because that’s part of things with him as we know, but when Derek Johnson stands behind you as a human being, you can’t help but feel good about who you are and what you’re doing.”
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