Pitching Coordinator Gets Ringing Endorsement

The Cubs had a pretty simple criterion for selecting its new Minor League Pitching Coordinator earlier this off-season.

"Knowledge and experience," said Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita, who serves as the club's Farm Director and was responsible for the hire.

"We wanted the best man for the job and he was clearly the best candidate."

That person was Mark Riggins.

Riggins, 50, had previously held the post of Minor League Pitching Coordinator with the St. Louis Cardinals for 12 seasons. He had spent the past 29 years with the Cardinals – first as a pitcher and then as a coach – before joining the Cubs.

Riggins was hired on Nov. 15 to replace Alan Dunn, who relinquished the role of Cubs Minor League Pitching Coordinator toward the end of last season after accepting a position on the Baltimore Orioles staff as big league bullpen coach.

Now employed by the Cubs, Riggins is already familiar with a few of its prospects.

He served as pitching coach for the Mesa Solar Sox in last year's Arizona Fall League, working with Cubs pitching prospects Sean Gallagher, Justin Berg, Matt Avery and Rocky Roquet.

Many of those pitchers say they are thankful for the time they got to spend with Riggins and are looking forward to his tutelage on a full-time basis.

"I'm personally glad they chose him for the job," said Avery, who closed 2007 at Double-A Tennessee and made eight appearances in the Fall League.

"I think Mark is a great guy and I think he's going to fill the role of the new pitching coordinator very well," said Berg, who made 26 starts at Tennessee in '07. "He really seems to know a lot about pitching. I think he's going to be a great coordinator and that he knows what he's talking about."

"He's done a really good job," Roquet opined during the Fall League.

Each of those pitchers had various forms of praise for Riggins in the time they spent under his watchful eye in Arizona, and they each received various input to take with them into the off-season, they said.

"He wants me to work on keeping my weight back a little more and basically getting more out of my body. He wants me to use my size and strength," said Avery, a 6-foot-6, 230-pound right-hander from the University of Virginia.

Berg, a 23-year-old right-hander and noted sinkerballer, may have benefited the most from the short time he worked with Riggins in Arizona.

"I did some work with him on the mound with just a towel, no ball or anything, and I lengthened out my stride by about six inches," Berg said. "That little six inches ... I went out there for two innings and was sitting 93 to 96 (mph). That little bit of six inches actually added another two miles per hour on my fastball."

Regardless of what each pitcher worked on with Riggins in Arizona, the common theme is that the Cubs' new pitching coordinator is very hands-on.

Roquet first made that observation when he noticed Riggins video-taping Solar Sox pitchers early on in the Fall League in October.

"Afterward, he showed us the tape and asked us if there was one thing he could correct us on if something was going wrong on the mound," Roquet recalled.

Still, while Riggins is hands-on, Roquet said he isn't overbearing.

"He didn't really tell me (to change) anything mechanically, just pitch selection and stuff like that," said the 25-year-old non-drafted free agent from Cal Poly in 2006.

Riggins' longetivity as a coach in the minor leagues speaks for itself (he began his coaching career with the Cardinals in 1984).

That could bring some stability to a farm system that is on its third minor league pitching coordinator (all in the past 18 months) thanks to Dunn and his predecessor, Les Strode, earning jobs on major league coaching staffs.

"We're lucky to have him," Fleita said of Riggins.

It would seem that so, too, are the Cubs' pitching prospects.

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