A strong commodity in the last half decade for the St. Louis Cardinals has been the development of homegrown pitchers up through their farm system. Uber-pitching prospects like Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal garnered St. Louis honors including baseball's best farm system as ranked by highly publicized prospect sites Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus entering the 2013 season.
Among those receiving credit for fostering the top farm system was the Cardinals player development staff and specifically former minor league pitching coordinator Brent Strom. The latter spent seven seasons in that role while nurturing many of the young arms that has helped St. Louis to four straight National Championship series, one pennant, and just two wins shy of a World Series Championship title under his tenure. Strom left the organization to become the Houston Astros pitching coach following the Fall Classic run in 2013.
Replacing Strom was Tim Leveque. The Cardinals’ new minors pitching coordinator served in a variety of roles over the last decade, including pitching specialist, pitching coach, mechanics analyst, rehab coordinator and scout. He started in player development side of baseball in 2006 for the Cardinals.
With an impressive baseball portfolio behind him, Leveque discusses the progress though his second full season as pitching coordinator, the Cardinals emphasis on arm strength and athleticism, and his overall thoughts on several other pitching-related topics in the exclusive interview that follows.
Derek Shore: From a player development standpoint, how would you sum up this season?
Tim Leveque: We are pleased with our young pitchers as a whole. A lot of pitchers got opportunities to move upward and we look forward to their progress moving forward.
DS: What has been different in your second season in the pitching coordinator role?
TL: Each season is different and comes with a different set of challenges. The biggest aspect was being able to anticipate the flow of the season a bit better having been through it the year before as pitching coordinator.
DS: In targeting pitchers in the draft, the Cardinals have emphasized arm strength and athleticism. What about this approach has benefited you and the other pitching coaches?
TL: It has benefitted us greatly from a continuity perspective. To acquire pitchers that fit our mold of what we teach in the minor leagues has helped keep a consistent development path.
DS: The organization seems to have produced a high number of pitchers with quality changeups to the big leagues in recent years. As a whole, does this signify the change up putting lesser stress on an arm or just playing as the great equalizer in counts?
TL: Each pitcher is different. We have acquired some pitchers who already had very good change-ups when they got to us. We have also taught a lot of pitchers changeups as well.
We try and find a pitch or key for each pitcher, and for some it has certainly been a change-up to help them change speeds, maximize speed differentials or have an off-speed pitch they can throw in hitter counts.
DS: A minor league coordinator has the responsibility of working system-wide with pitchers. Each pitcher obviously presents different styles of craft and tendencies. For example, how do you go about convincing a high-velocity guy to back off for command purposes or a sinker-baller to stick to his strengths rather than being a power pitcher?
TL: We really try to individualize and approach for each pitcher. We surely don't want to take away someone's strength. We want to find a combination of pitches and an overall approach that can help them maximize their ability to succeed.
DS: How do you evaluate a pitcher's biomechanics and health?
TL: We look at each pitcher on an individual basis. There are some universal mechanical tenets such as timing, tempo, rhythm, time and space. Video and feedback from our coaches and scouts are valuable tools. Video also allows us to see where a pitcher has regressed or progressed with his mechanics.
DS: Are you an advocate of split-finger fastballs, cutters, or even deception?
TL: This also falls into the individualization bucket. If a certain pitch can help a pitcher then we can go that route. Split-fingers and cutters can be effective pitches but we want to make sure they throw them with proper mechanics and limit manipulation to create artificial movement.
As for deception there are ways a pitcher can create some deception. Some have it naturally and others we might need to find an approach that can maximize the effectiveness of each pitch.
DS: Arguably the Cardinals Minor League Pitcher of the Year for 2015 is Alex Reyes. Despite one setback earlier this season, Reyes has been marvelous. What has been your perception of him?
TL: He has had a good year, as have many other of our pitchers. He is learning and improving every day. He knows what his end goal is and is working hard every day to prepare himself.
TL: They both have had good years, as many of our other pitchers have. They have improved, made adjustments, worked hard, prepared and learned a lot in their first full season.
TL: They also had good years and made improvements. They will continue to work hard and improve aspects of their game that will help them move up the system.
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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