The Minnesota Twins must change the vital role of their field staff midway through the season with the sudden departure of pitching coach Wes Johnson for a lucrative job at LSU college.
Before opening a five-game set against AL Central rivals Cleveland, the Twins announced that Johnson would be working on the series against the Guardians until Thursday. The 50-year-old will then return to his SEC roots and join the Tigers.
The Twins, who are two games ahead of the Guardians in the division race, were still working to decide how Johnson’s job would be filled. Bullpen coach Pete Mackie and pitching assistant coach Luis Ramirez will be instrumental in replacing Johnson.
“His leadership, insight, creativity and ability to work effectively with a diverse team were hallmarks of his time with the Minnesota Twins,” said Derek Falvey, president of baseball operations. “His influence and impact will continue to be felt in Minnesota through the pitchers and staff he helped mentor.”
The mid-season move of a key assistant from the No. 1 team was striking, but Johnson’s arrival in 2019 was also unusual. Considered by many to be the first college pitching coach to go straight to the big leagues when the Twins hired him from Arkansas, who was nationally ranked second in the 2018 College World Series.
Johnson spent nine seasons as a college pitching coach before the Twins ripped him off after taking a closer look at his background in biomechanics. He has a master’s degree in kinesiology.
Johnson, who was born in Atlanta and raised in Arkansas, where he has a home during the off-season, has also made stops in Mississippi, Dallas Baptist, and Central Arkansas. He was a high school coach before going to college.
Johnson led recruiting for division champion teams in the first two years of his career, and this season the Twins returned to the top of the AL Central with a tag team ERA of 3.78, 11th in the majors. The Twins finished 26th in the ERA last year, fourth in 2020 and ninth in 2019, while Johnson was in charge of staff.
The Twins set a single-season club record with 1,463 strikeouts in 2019. Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi were selected to the 2019 All-Star Game, and Taylor Rogers joined the team in 2021. Gemini pitchers regularly praised Johnson’s energy, positivity and wisdom, most recently on Saturday night when Chris Archer threw five close innings with one hit allowed by Colorado.
“Wes is one of my biggest supporters,” Archer said after a 6-0 win at Target Field. “We do a lot of work, mental and physical, between races.”
The Athletic reported that Johnson would receive a solid raise at LSU, which was scheduled to be announced on Monday. The Tigers are one of only three schools to have won six national championships, all of which were accumulated between 1991 and 2009. They have competed in the College World Series 18 times, most recently in 2017.
Coach Jay Johnson just finished his first season at LSU, going 40-22 and being eliminated by South Mississippi in their regional NCAA final game, and also lost two employees to head coaching promotions in other strength conference programs. Assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Dan Fitzgerald went to Kansas, while pitching coach Jason Kelly went to Washington.