June 27: The Twins formally announced this morning that Johnson will depart the organization to accept his new role at LSU. His final day with the Twins will be Thursday.
“Wes Johnson has been an integral part of our organization over the last three and a half seasons and has helped guide our pitchers at the highest level,” Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said in a press release. “His leadership, insight, creativity, and ability to effectively work across a diverse team were hallmarks of his time with the Minnesota Twins. His influence and impact will continue to be realized in Minnesota through the pitchers and staff members he helped mentor. We wish him and his family all the best during his next stop at LSU.”
June 26, 11:03PM: Johnson will receive a $750K annual salary from LSU, Gleeman and Hayes report, a major increase over the approximately $350K per year that the coach received from the Twins. Johnson will indeed leave for LSU when the Twins’ series in Cleveland concludes on Thursday.
7:17PM: Maki will be promoted and become the Twins’ new pitching coach, Gleeman and Hayes report (via Twitter). Also from Hayes, talks between the Twins and Johnson were more about “what might make [the] job more appealing” to Johnson, and he didn’t ask the club for more money. LSU, meanwhile, was “very aggressive” in recruiting Johnson.
6:30PM: In a surprise midseason move, Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson is leaving the team to return to the college ranks, as D1 Baseball’s Kendall Rogers (Twitter link) reports that Johnson has been hired as LSU’s new pitching coach. Johnson is in his fourth season with the Twins, but has previous SEC ties — he worked as a pitching coach at Mississippi State and at Arkansas before joining Minnesota in November 2018.
Johnson had never worked in pro baseball prior to being hired by the Twins, though several teams in recent years have hired coaches with more varied resumes than the usual background as a player, coach, or manager at the MLB or minor league levels. In that regard, Johnson was something of a forerunner to this trend, as he was an early adopter of Trackman technology even at the college level.
Since the start of the 2019 season, Minnesota pitchers rank 10th in baseball in fWAR (46.8), which is a strong total even factoring in the injuries and performance drop-offs that plagued the Twins during their disappointing 2021 campaign. Starting pitching was seen as a big question mark for the Twins heading into 2022, but the club has weathered another set of injuries to post strong-to-respectable numbers in several categories. The success stories include Chris Archer’s comeback year, and rookie Joe Ryan pitching well in his first full MLB season.
The pitching has been a reason behind the Twins’ 41-33 record, and rise to first place in the AL Central. With this in mind, it makes it all the more unusual that Johnson would leave so abruptly — The Athletic’s Dan Hayes reports that the Twins only learned yesterday about Johnson’s negotiations with LSU. With Minnesota about to begin an important five-game series against the Guardians, Aaron Gleeman of The Athletic adds that Johnson is expected to remain with the Twins until that series is over.
Presumably, assistant pitching coach Luis Ramirez or bullpen coach Pete Maki are the likeliest candidates to step into Minnesota’s pitching coach role on at least an interim basis. Given the sudden nature of Johnson’s departure, the Twins are perhaps more apt to wait until after the season to hire a permanent replacement.