Lewallyn on Double-A Prospects

Chicago Cubs Double-A pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn has spent the better part of the last two decades working with young pitchers to develop them into major leaguers.

An 11-year coaching veteran with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Lewallyn worked to develop such big league pitchers as National League Cy Young Award Winner Brandon Webb.

Lewallyn joined the Cubs as pitching coach at Class AA Tennessee in 2007 and last season he was told to report to Chicago to assist manager Lou Piniella's club after the Smokies' season ended in September.

InsideTheIvy.com caught up with the veteran pitching instructor and asked him about the development of several prospects whom he tutored at Double-A in 2008.

James Russell, LHP

"He made progress on his breaking ball. We knew this, but it was probably a stretch to move him to Double-A. He would probably have had a full successful season had he stayed in Daytona Beach, but we wanted to push him a little bit just so he would get a taste [of Double-A]. We fully expected him to struggle, but we were able to see what he had to do to get over the hump.

"In the long-run, I think it was very good for him to come to Knoxville. For me, I think Double-A is kind of a fence-post. When you get to Double-A, it's what separates the men from the boys. Those guys have to learn how to pitch because everyone is pretty good at that level. I think he comes back here next year fully loaded and ready to have a good year."

Casey Lambert, LHP

"I had him the year before last in Instructional League and he had a good breaking ball. The one thing we discussed in Instructional League was that his breaking ball would get him out of ‘A' ball, but commanding his fastball would get him to the big leagues. He worked very hard last season commanding his fastball better and not overexposing his breaking ball. He's also got a good changeup.

"At the end of the year, he got a little tired because it was his first full season. But I look for him to come back strong this spring and ready to go."

Alex Maestri , RHP

"It's been awhile since I've heard anything on him, but the last I heard was in November at our organizational meetings and they said he was progressing nicely and should be ready to go by spring training. He's a guy that, mentally, is very young as far as pitchers go because he's from Italy and hasn't been exposed that much. But he's got a good arm and a good breaking ball."

Losing Jose Ceda (trade), Donald Veal (Rule 5 Draft)

"Both of them have plus arms and Veal is left-handed, but I remember when I was with the Diamondbacks, we traded Brad Penny for Matt Mantei. That ended up being I guess considered a bad trade because Penny went on to win a World Series. We won a World Series with the Diamondbacks, too, but Mantei really wasn't an integral part because he got hurt.

"At the time, when you're going after somebody in a trade, you've got to give up somebody to get somebody. That's with Ceda. With Veal, you've only got so many spots to protect guys and you always take a chance on losing one of them. My own personal wish is that we don't get him back; that he's successful [with Pittsburgh] and they end up keeping him in the big leagues.

"When I was with Arizona, we lost Javier Lopez and he ended up getting five or six years in the big leagues. He's still getting big league time. If we get Donnie back, he'll be welcomed back with open arms. He's a great kid and a great athlete.

"Every organization takes chances and if someone was going to take him, it would be a Pittsburgh or Kansas City that right now could afford to take a look at him in the spring and see if he can help them. If not, we get him back and for half the price. Again, you hate to lose somebody. I know the story I always heard in the Dodgers organization was they failed to protect a guy named Roberto Clemente."

Esmailin Caridad, RHP

"When he got to Double-A, he wasn't ahead of his competition. He kind of hit that wall, but he learned and made adjustments and finished really strong. He throws to the level of competition.

"He got challenged when he got to Double-A. You get people out with stuff until you get to Double-A and then stuff will only take you so far; you have to be able to pitch with the stuff. That's what he's finding out. (Jeff) Samardzija went through that as well. He had great stuff, but he got to Double-A and threw that 95 [mph] fastball belt-high and it got turned around on him. Then, he made adjustments. That's what Caridad has done. If you look at his numbers for the month of August, they're much better than the overall performance.

"The thing that I was impressed with was he made improvements with his pitching, but also in other parts of the game. He started handling a bat pretty well for us and holding runners and things that had never really been emphasized to him. He's got some upside.

"[Fastball, slider, changeup], that's his repertoire."

Mitch Atkins, RHP

"If anybody has earned the right to find out if they can pitch in the big leagues, he has. One thing that I've always preached with the Dodgers, with Arizona and now the Cubs is if you want an opportunity to prove that you belong at a level, you overmatch the level that you're at and he certainly overmatched the levels that he was at (in 2008). He was better at Double-A than everybody else and he had pretty good numbers at Triple-A.

"It's one of those things where when I first had Mitch two years ago and he came up in the second half of the year, he struggled at Double-A. He was still learning to pitch at that level. You go back to those numbers, belt-high 91, 92, even 94 (mph), and you get hit a long way. Then he learned how to pitch. Again, Double-A separates the men from the boys. I think he can pitch at the big leagues."

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