The Cubs are set to hire Craig Driver as their new first base and catching coach, ESPN.com’s Jesse Rogers reports (Twitter link). Driver will replace Will Venable as Chicago’s first base coach, though president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said earlier this month that Venable would be returning to the Cubs’ staff in 2020. The most obvious spot for Venable seems to be at third base, as former third base coach Brian Butterfield left the Cubs to join former manager Joe Maddon in Anaheim.
Driver has spent the last two seasons as the Phils’ receiving coach and bullpen catcher, following five years coaching at Yale, Central Washington University, and the University Of Puget Sound. As the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Scott Lauber outlined in a piece last August, J.T. Realmuto’s caught-stealing numbers greatly increased on Driver’s watch, as Realmuto’s 46.7% caught stealing percentage in 2019 dwarfed his previous career best of 38.2%. Realmuto’s framing and blocking also improved, as per Baseball Prospectus, turning a player who was already the sport’s best catcher into one of its best all-around performers at any position.
The Cubs would love to see Willson Contreras make such a leap, as Contreras has only been roughly average at throwing out baserunners during his career. Framing has also long been considered an issue for the two-time All-Star, though BP and StatCorner differed wildly in their evaluations of Contreras’ framing work in 2019. StatCorner ranked Contreras as the 17th-best pitch-framer in the game last season, while Baseball Prospectus ranked him 109th of 113 catchers in the Framing Runs category.
As Rogers noted in another tweet, Driver joins a coaching staff that is deep in catching knowledge. Newly-hired manager David Ross and quality assurance coach Mike Napoli have a combined 1344 games of big league experience behind the plate, while current catching, strategy, and associate pitching coach Mike Borzello still seems to be a member of the 2020 staff. It could be that Driver’s responsibilities will continue to focus largely on receiving and he’ll operate alongside Borzello in working with Contreras, Victor Caratini, and the organization’s other backstops. It’s worth noting that Driver was one of two catching coaches on Philadelphia’s staff, alongside Bob Stumpo.