Minnesota Twins: Wes Johnson’s Departure and What Comes Next

The Minnesota Twins begin a massive series against the Cleveland Guardians today, and with the team just two games up, Minnesota needs these games. Unfortunately, the team has to deal with bigger news, a coaching shakeup that hasn’t been seen in decades: the departure of Pitching Coach Wes Johnson to become the new pitching coach at Louisiana State University.

This is an all-around stunning move. Johnson has been the Twins’ pitching coach since he left the University of Arkansas in 2019. He was the first pitching coach to move from college to the MLB and is the first coach OR manager to do so since 1980.

He was seen as one of the better pitching coaches in baseball, and his impact on the Minnesota Twins staff was evident to just about everyone. Now, in the middle of the season, that coach is leaving a division-leading team that’s seen as a pitcher or two away from being a contender to head to the college level. So why would Wes leave?

Minnesota Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson is leaving for LSU. What happens next?

For starters, LSU is one of the top collegiate baseball programs in the country. A preseason Top 15 team nearly every year, the program has racked up six National Championships, the second most in the country. They also have the seventh-most College World Series appearances. The team is one of the best programs in college baseball.

In addition, LSU is a lot closer to home for Johnson and his family. Johnson, who grew up in Arkansas and lives there in the offseason, it’s a lot closer to his family then Minnesota is. Then of course, there’s the money.

The Twins were reportedly paying $400,000 a year for Johnson’s services, a number that’s in line with what a lot of college pitching coaches make. According to his new contract, he’s taking a slight paycut to join the LSU staff:

While that might not be much, there’s also the potential for Johnson to make a lot more money if the team’s successful:

So not only will Johnson be at a level that’s more comfortable for him and where he has more experience, he’ll also be closer to family with a likely pay raise headed his way:

Why leave in the middle of the season? Well, for LSU, it’s a big recruiting factor to have a former Major League Baseball pitching coach abandon his team to join your program. It’s a major plus to have when you’re trying to get players to join the university instead of going pro.

The big issue for us as fans is the position this leaves the Minnesota Twins in. According to Dan Hayes, Johnson only let the Twins know about his discussions with LSU on Saturday and the deal was done on Sunday.

The team found out about the news when it broke on Twitter, leading to what I can only assume was an extremely awkward flight to Cleveland. Despite this, the team has been very supportive with the news having broken. As mentioned earlier, the team’s pitching was better under Johnson, especially his first two years in Minnesota. Chris Archer and other players raved about his ability:

Now, it’s expected that Pete Maki is going to take over as the team’s pitching coach when Wes Johnson leaves after Thursday. Maki, the team’s bullpen coach, has been with the organization since 2017 when he was hired as the team’s minor league pitching coach.

He’s worked with Johnson for the last two years since he was promoted to the Major League staff, and it’s likely that Maki will be given the interim tag going forward. If Maki succeeds, it would make a lot of sense to have him continue on in the role past 2022.

No one can be sure how things will go now that Johnson is heading down South. The team could rally together and the pitching could improve in his absence or the arms could struggle further. It’s easy to understand why Johnson made the move, but it creates a lot of uncertainty for the team going forward.