An Interview with Dane Johnson, 2009 Edition

Wednesday, June 03 2009 @ 10:56 PM EDT

Contributed by: Gerry

Dane Johnson is the Blue Jays minor league pitching coordinator and an old friend of Da Box.  He usually gives us his perspective on the minor league pitchers at least once per season.  Dane and his team have been sending a steady parade of pitchers to the big leagues recently and today he gives us some interesting insight into Danny Faquhar, Tim Collins and Marc Rzepczynski among others.

BB: What role is Mel Queen filling for you?

DJ: We go way back actually, he was the pitching coordinator when I was here playing.  Being around him again he sheds a lot of light, a lot of insight, I bounce things off him a lot.  He has a lot of experience, he has managed, he has been a major league pitching coach, he has been a coordinator, he has been a minor league director so he has worn a lot of different hats.  He works with aspects of a lot of guys on the field whether it be catching or outfield and like I said I bounce a lot of things off him.  Mel lives in California so he can see a lot of the Las Vegas games but we talk all the time about what he has seen.  He is full of insight, he loves the game, he is the crusty veteran who knows a lot about pitching.

BB: The Jays have developed and promoted a lot of pitchers recently, it must give you and your team a lot of satisfaction seeing those pitchers get called up?

DJ: It's nice to have the guys to work with that have the ability and/or the aptitude to get what we are telling them.  But it is a credit to everyone in the organization, all the way from spring training with the baseball 101's to managers to pitching coaches to everyone being on the same page to get these kids prepared.  And it's not just physically such as adding a pitch but it is mentally which is one of the biggest things.  And to have a guy like Cecil go up and fill in for two or three starts and have Robert Ray do the same thing, it's a credit to those kids.

BB: Watching Dustin Antolin last night he is a young guy with a nice delivery.  How do you expect young guys like that to develop?

DJ:  Well they will develop but we don't have anything written down.  But with a young kid will he grow into his body, is he going to get bigger, is he going to get longer or lankier or physically stronger?  All those things play into a kid developing more velocity down the road combined with a good long toss program and getting repetitions with his fastball.  Antolin has a good loose arm, good sink on his 2-seamer, he is working on his cutter and slider, he threw a couple of good ones last night.  He threw strikes, he attacked the zone, he was downhill, he has come a long way from when he first got here. 

BB: Chuck Huggins was just promoted to Dunedin, he doesn't throw particularly hard.  What were the reasons for his success?

DJ: He hides the ball fairly well, he creates a good downward plane for himself from a high three quarter slot.  He's got enough fastball with some life to it at the end of it. He is working on a two-seamer to get a little more movement and to get the ball put on the ground a little bit more because he is a fly ball pitcher.  He has a terrific change-up, that makes the fastball look better, and a curve-ball.  It's a viable curve-ball that he can get a strikeout with when he needs to.  We are cleaning up his command and delivery a little bit more, he's got the eye of the tiger, he competes well.  He did a great job here and pushed his way to Dunedin and we will see how it goes there.

BB: Tim Collins also pushed his way to Dunedin, why has he been so successful?

DJ: When you look at Timmy's numbers overall they look ridiculous.  Timmy hides the ball very well, it's a dynamic delivery, the ball gets on guys very fast.  He has a touch above average fastball, it's up to 91-92 now, touches 93, he has a lot of life on his fastball.  He needs to learn how to pitch down in the zone a little more.  He is developing a terrific change-up so it gives him something else against right-handers when the curveball is not working and he really spins the curveball, it has really good bite and late action at the plate.  He is a battler, a grinder and he wants the ball all the time and he is not afraid of anybody, he is not afraid of contact.  I think he will take the next step here sooner rather than later. (note: Dane said this with a big grin which suggests it won't be too long before Collins is in AA).

BB: What is the status of Kyle Ginley?

DJ: Kyle is still rehabbing.  He had a little bit of an elbow problem and he had a setback on it so we had to back him off a bit more.  We are working on a little bit of a different delivery with Kyle to reduce the stress on his elbow.  Hopefully he will be back on the mound competitively within the next couple of weeks.

BB: And Alan Farina?

DJ: Same, he had a shoulder problem but he is a little ahead of Ginley, he should be back soon.

BB: Andrew Liebel's numbers aren't bad but he always seems to run into a bad inning or two in a game.

DJ: He is a command guy, he is going to be a command and control guy.  He has taken a step over the Lansing level and went right to Dunedin.  We thought he could handle it.  He got off to a rough start, trying to figure out what the league was all about, he was trying to figure out if he was good enough to be there, being able to compete and his last three or four starts have been really good down there, he has kept his team in the game.  He got his first win the other night and he has been six or seven innings the last few times out there, doing a terrific job mixing all his pitches.  He has a real good change-up, his fastball sits a tick below average to average, he has a 12-6 curveball and a little slider to go with it.  He has to have all three or four pitches going to be able to compete.  He's heading in the right direction.

BB: You have moved Trystan Magnuson back to the bullpen this year, how is he doing?

DJ: He had a tough time last year, he didn't get a win.  And one of the reasons was that he was on such a limited pitch-count, 60 pitches, because he had never started before and it is tough to get to the fifth inning when you are on a 60 pitch-count.  It was either a no-decision or a loss.  He has made strides this year, we changed his grip on his two-seamer, we are getting more movement on it now, we are getting the ball put on the ground.  He can be more aggressive out of the bullpen, he has put together a nice streak of innings.  His slider is still a nice pitch for him, he has a split/change now that has out-pitch qualities.  He sees the light at the end of the tunnel more now and it's being able to compete out of the bullpen.  I think he is more comfortable down there, he likes coming in from the bullpen and pitching out of the stretch and going after guys.

BB: I saw Randy Boone pitch last season and he is a command and control, use all his pitches, type of pitcher.  This season he is pitching well at AA and his strikeouts are up.  Has he developed any different pitches to cause this?

DJ: Not necessarily, I think he is just using them more wisely.  Randy is going to be a ground ball pitcher, he is a sinker/slider guy, good change-up, occasional curveball.  He is learning how to pitch inside more and opening up the outer half for that slider.  I don't think he is after strikeouts, he is after that three or four pitch at-bat, keep the ball on the ground, keep the runners off the bases.  He will attack the zone with his two-seamer and get a double play if necessary.  He will give up his hits, he will get his double-plays also, he needs to keep his walk totals low and he has to be aggressive in the zone.

BB: Over the last few years AA has been the place where pitchers who throw from underneath go to die.  Will Danny Farquhar be different?

DJ: He'll do fine, his stuff is electric, he is up to 95-96-97 at the top and he sits 94-95.  I have talked to him about using his four-seamer more because he has terrific velocity on it, I think he loses a little bit when he goes to his two-seamer.  He has a curve-ball from up top that he throws well, he has a cutter from up there, it's not a viable pitch right now although it could become one.  He has a good change-up and then he drops down from the mid to upper eighties and scares a right handed hitter.  He throws a little frisbee slider from down there too so he is always giving guys different looks and he is successful doing it.  We are not changing his delivery, we are happy with the two arm slots.  There probably will come a time when he will get to a level where he will have to mix his pitches a little better but that is what progression is all about.

BB: Have you thought about making him a starter?

DJ: No I think his value lies in relieving.  He is 5'11', 170 pounds soaking wet and he is a terrific athlete, he gets off the mound really well.

BB: You moved Marc Rzepczynski from Lansing to New Hampshire.  He is pitching reasonably well there even I don't think his stuff is as electric as Cecil's.

DJ: I disagree with that.  His stuff is every bit as good as, if not in some ways better than Cecil.  I am taking nothing away from Brett but Zep is as accomplished.  Zep does have electric stuff, it moves and it's hard.  And it moves down, he has sink on the two-seamer, he has a terrific slider and very good movement on the change-up and sometimes it is hard to keep his stuff on the plate it is moving so much.  He can embarrass hitters with his stuff.  He needs to pound the zone at a higher clip.  He is doing fine he just needs to work on getting into the seventh inning every night rather than five and two thirds, he needs to get those extra five or six outs.

BB: Jeremy Accardo, does he have the splitter back?

DJ: Yes, he is throwing all three pitches now, he has the fastball, the cutter and the splitty going.  From what I saw he is back to what he was in 2006 when he had all those saves.  He has to wait for his turn.  Sometimes you are ready for the big leagues but the big leagues aren't ready for you.

BB: What has Brad Mills had to learn at AAA?

DJ: When he has three pitches working he is fine.  When he gets behind in counts, elevates the ball in the zone, he runs into problems.  When he came into camp this year he was pounding down (in the zone).  When he went down to AAA he had some rough starts where he couldn't get the ball down.  Super change-up and a great curveball that sometimes is tough to throw for a strike and to call.

Batters Box thanks Dane Johnson for his time.