Brought up in the Philadelphia Phillies’ farm system, Dernier quickly became known for his speed and defense. In 1984, he brought his game to the North Side and helped the Cubs secure their first playoff berth in almost 40 years.
Dernier batted .278 that year with the Cubs and stole a career-high 45 bases while being thrown out 17 times. He also won Gold Glove honors as the team’s starting center fielder on manager Jim Frey’s club.
Some 22 years later, the now 49-year-old Dernier was invited to the Cubs’ Instructional League camp in Arizona recently to tutor some of the club’s young talent on the two areas that he became known for in his prime.
The decision to bring Dernier aboard for this year’s Instructs was spearheaded by Cubs Director of Player Development Oneri Fleita.
“(Oneri) asked me if I would come down and spend a couple of weeks with the guys and in particular focus a good deal of attention on Felix and some troubles he was having,” Dernier explained.
The troubles Dernier was asked to help solve centered around Pie getting better jumps and reads on opposing pitchers.
Sure, Pie can hit, but Dernier knows hitting isn’t everything.
“Hitting is like a bad girlfriend,” Dernier professes. “She only shows up when she wants to.”
With traits like good base-running and defense, though, “you can count on them like a good girlfriend,” he says.
Even before Instructs began, Dernier saw Pie briefly at Triple-A. Pie batted .283 there and finished second in the Pacific Coast League in hits.
It was early on in Des Moines where Dernier first noticed some of Pie’s deficiencies in the base-running department.
“Seemingly, he was getting thrown out stealing more than his talent would dictate,” Dernier said of Pie, who stole 17 bases and was caught 11 times.
The remedy Dernier offered was for Pie to find a comfortable position in which to bear down and take off.
“A phrase I like to use is ‘reaction ability,’ Dernier explains. “In other words, your first two steps are so critical, particularly in stealing second base. What I tried to do is get Felix in a position and a lead at first base that gave him the best possible ability to make those first two steps.”
To do that, Dernier wanted Pie to adhere to something that felt natural to him. Dernier is quick to note that he never tried to mold Pie into the same type of stance that he himself displayed throughout his big league career.
“I wasn’t going to try to construct him into how I thought he should look,” Dernier said. “Really, I just tried to get him into a tension-free kind of stance like a sprinter would have, like a standup position where you’re ready to take off.”
Pie’s stance was one of the first things that caught Dernier’s eye when he initially saw the 21-year-old at Iowa this season. He observed that Pie was “bent over,” that his arms were “cockeyed,” and that he looked “tense.”
“I really tried to convince Felix that he needs to feel natural, to feel like you’re in a natural position to make that first move as quickly as possible,” Dernier said. “If you’re 6’3”, you don’t want to be bent all over and suddenly be 5’8”, so I basically tried to encourage him to be 6’3”, to stand tall flexing his knees, and then to run downhill.”
“He was so bent over at the waste that his first move would be up,” Dernier recalled. “If you’re going to steal second and your first move is up, that half a second or fractions of seconds you take away from yourself is the difference between safe and out at second base.
“He got more straight up, got his feet a little more even, and had one arm dangling and the other one kind of cocked behind him.”
Pie will now look to take Dernier’s advice with him on into Winter Ball. He’s 5-for-19 with team Licey in the Dominican Winter League and through five games has yet to attempt a stolen base.
“A lot of it is him trying to sort of create himself,” Dernier said. “I think he understands that and he seemed to really grasp that whole idea. He got what I thought was a lot better jumps in the couple of weeks that we worked on it down there. He felt a lot better and we looked at it on film. I think he understands the difference there and hopefully he’s able to apply it in Winter Ball and become more adapt to stealing bases.”
All in all, Dernier had many nice things to say about Pie.
“He’s a very excitable guy,” Dernier said. “He’s youthful and he has that excitability that you like to see in a young player, but he’s also very intelligent. He’s very easy to communicate with and to me that’s very encouraging. He wants to be coached. He wants to get better and that’s stuff you can’t really teach.”
Now that he’s given Pie some tutelage, Dernier hopes to see him take off. And while it’s not official just yet, Dernier expects to join the Cubs’ in an official coaching capacity some time soon.
“Obviously, I have a lot of passion for the Cubs and I always will,” Dernier said. “Now that I’ve got a little bit of stake in Felix personally, I really hope he has success because I’ve tried to help him.”