As was speculated for some time now, Casey Kopitzke’s veteran presence at catcher the past several years in the Cubs’ farm system helped land him the role of the organization’s new Minor League Catching Coordinator.
The 28-year-old Kopitzke retired from his playing days after the minor league season ended last September and proceeded to go to the Cubs’ annual Instructional League camp in Arizona as a catching instructor.
At Triple-A Iowa this past season, Kopitzke appeared in 30 games and hit .239 in 71 at-bats. As the season wore on, he began to take on several coaching responsibilities, which included coaching first base on occasion.
Kopitzke will replace Buddy Bailey in the role of Catching Coordinator.
Bailey, a former manager of the Boston Red Sox Triple-A team in Pawtucket, R.I., came to the Cubs with the understanding that he’d be managing one of the club’s minor league affiliates in 2006. Instead, he was offered the role of Catching Coordinator and later went on to manage Class-A Daytona in the second half of the Florida State League season.
At 28, Kopitzke will be the youngest Minor League Coordinator in the Cubs’ farm system and perhaps the youngest amongst all Major League teams.
He may be young, but Kopitzke feels he’s seen enough to fit right into the role.
“I have great resources and Bobby Dickerson, Oneri Fleita and Dave Bialas are going to help me out,” Kopitzke said. “I’m going to lean on them whenever I have a question. All the years I’ve spent here, seeing them come to town and how they go about their business and how they come in and work with particular players, that’s basically my role now.
“With the conversations I’ve had with other people about what my job is going to be, I have a pretty good grasp of what I need to,” he added.
Kopitzke isn’t the only one who was in Instructs on an unofficial basis that will now formally join the Cubs’ minor league staff.
As we first reported earlier this month, former Cub Bob Dernier was hoping to join the organization in an official capacity as the club’s new Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator. It became official Thursday.
The 49-year-old Dernier was brought to Instructs camp at the request of Fleita, the Cubs’ Farm Director, to work closely with top prospect Felix Pie on several base-running techniques. While there, Dernier also spent time with such Cubs prospects as Tyler Colvin and Yusuf Carter among others.
Having returned to Wrigley Field a number of times over the years, Dernier has remained a popular face of the Cubs’ franchise since the 80s.
“I’m tickled to put that blue back on,” he said of joining the Cubs. “It feels like I’m 21 again. The only difference is I don’t have to get any hits now.”
Dernier said he draws comparisons of baseball to football. He knows that speed and defense win championships no matter the sport.
“I know it’s apples to oranges, but with baseball and football, there’s sort of a trinity there,” Dernier said. “In football, there’s offense, defense and special teams. I believe in baseball, base-running kind of falls under that special teams label. If you’re giving away outs on the bases or aren’t running aggressively, you’re hurting your ball club.”
Former pitcher Mike Harkey joins Dernier and Kopitzke as former Cubs to take a coaching position in the farm system.
Harkey will be the organization’s new pitching coach at Triple-A next season, while Dennis Lewallyn will serve as pitching coach at Double-A Tennessee.
Harkey spent 2006 as the Florida Marlins’ bullpen coach under Joe Girardi and previously served as a pitching coach in the San Diego Padres’ farm system. Lewallyn, meanwhile, has logged over 20 years between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks as a coach or instructor.
For his part, Harkey will replace Alan Dunn at the helm of Iowa pitching. Dunn will now serve as the Cubs’ new Minor League Pitching Coordinator – a position previously held by Lester Strode, the Cubs’ new bullpen coach.
From a player’s standpoint, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who feels Dunn is more qualified for the position. Practically every pitcher who’s had Dunn as a pitching coach over the course of a full season has offered nothing but praise for the soon to be 45-year-old.
“His work ethic is unbelievable,” Cubs pitching prospect Andy Shipman said of Dunn. “He never gets straight off course. Every day, he’s there to work rain or shine. He makes sure you’re prepared to do the job every day.”
Dunn said of his new role: “I’m sure there will be things along the way that I’ll get a better grasp on. But I’m going to try to attack it like I’ve done with all my other jobs in the organization at whatever level and just do what I can to help guys reach their potential.”
Dunn also offered his praise for both Harkey and Lewallyn.
“Mike is a very experienced baseball guy,” Dunn said. “I’ve heard many good things about him as far as his rapport with the players and the things he’s looking to do to try to get players better. And Dennis brings a lot of experience with him as well. We’re real fortunate to get some experienced, quality guys at those positions.”
“I feel good about the direction we’re going in at the major league level,” Dunn added. “Even as dismal as it seemed last year, I think there are a lot of positives going on and I think better days are ahead for us.”
Bialas (Minor League Field Coordinator), Dave Keller (Hitting Coordinator), Bobby Dickerson (Infield Coordinator) and Julio Garcia (Latin American Field Coordinator) will all return to their posts next season, the Cubs announced.
Who will manage at Triple-A and at least two other Cubs affiliates remains to be seen, but Cubs coach Pat Listach recently informed Inside The Ivy that he’ll return for a second season at the helm of the Cubs’ Double-A squad in 2007 barring any changes.
Also, Dernier told Inside The Ivy Thursday that friend and former teammate Jody Davis will manage at Daytona next year. Davis managed at Class-A Peoria in 2006.