Christ, Family, Baseball: Why Wes Johnson Left the Twins for LSU


Christ, Family, Baseball: Why Wes Johnson Left the Twins for LSU

CLEVELAND — Scheduled for the Twins’ hour-long flight to Cleveland, Carlos Correa was preparing for five games in four days as AL Central’s leadership morphed. He connected his phone to WiFi and of course opened up Twitter.

He read the first tweet on his timeline twice. Then check if the account that tweeted it is verified. Then he asked his neighbor Gio Urshela to read it too.

Both were in disbelief, so Correa went back to Human Resources, specifically pitching coach Wes Johnson.

“He told me at the time that he had a great opportunity for himself and his family at LSU,” Correa said.

Johnson canceled in the middle of a first-place season and transferred to Baton Rouge, La. to become the Tigers’ pitching coach. LSU had also courted Johnson last season. But that has accelerated over the past week, and the aggressive pitch turned into an offer on Thursday. Johnson accepted on Sunday. Between Sunday’s game and the flight, Johnson didn’t have a chance to properly brief the team before the news broke.

Correa said Twins manager Rocco Baldelli initially told him to keep what he learned about Johnson rock-bottom.

“When I went back to my seat, the guys said, ‘What did you talk to Rocco about?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know. are you talking about wes What do you know?’ ‘He’s leaving,'” Correa said. “I think everyone knew when we landed.”

The twins organized impromptu meetings at the hotel, where Baldelli, Johnson and Baseball Operations President Derek Falvey confirmed the reports.

The players were shocked. When coaches leave mid-season, it’s usually because the team is losing games and staff are losing jobs. Johnson left a good team to take the same position at a lower level, albeit at a school in powerhouse SEC.

Johnson made history when he joined the Twins straight from the University of Arkansas after the 2018 season. He’s an integral part of the coaching staff, helping Baldelli — an outfielder in his playing days — make pitching-related decisions.

Johnson was a hit as the Twins won 2019 and 20 division titles. The 2021 season was a steep descent with a 4.83 staff ERA. But with a completely rebuilt starting rotation in 2022, Johnson lowered that collective ERA to 3.78.

Why Johnson would choose to exit such a plum situation boiled down to three core values.

“I tell people my priorities. It is my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, one. It’s my family, two. And it’s baseball, three,” Johnson said. “I’ll never throw them off balance.”

The MLB lifestyle can put a strain on that work-life balance. The 50-year-old and his wife Angie have three children: Ryan, Anna and Ava. The latter two still attend middle and high school in Johnson’s native Arkansas. And with a 162-game season and a few months of spring training, Johnson was missing family moments.

The college season is much less demanding, although year-round recruiting appears to be a major factor in his quick departure. The Lafayette Daily Advertiser reported that Johnson’s LSU contract includes an annual base salary of $380,000 for three years, plus a monthly vehicle allowance of $800 and a $25,000 relocation incentive.

Johnson said it was “the hardest” thing he’s ever done. It has also put the twins in a difficult position as they had to replace a key employee by Friday once Johnson officially departed following that series.

“We want to be respectful of everyone in the room, speak to different people and staff. That involves some juggling,” said Falvey. “Our plan here is to work with whatever internal group we have to step into the role of Wes.”

Possible candidates include assistant pitching coach Luis Ramirez, bullpen coach Pete Maki and run prevention coordinator Colby Suggs, although the team has stressed it will be a group effort to finish this season.

Several pitchers were happy about Johnson’s new chance but sad to lose his lead. Starter Chris Archer, who has been in the league since 2012 and has been dealing with serious injuries in recent years, said Johnson had a way of making pitchers believe in themselves again, which will continue after his death.

“He’s really helped bring my confidence back every day,” Archer said. “…He’s the best pitching coach I’ve ever had, from head to toe. Analytics, Biomechanics, Instilling Confidence, Game Plan. Every single facet you can imagine, he was the best.”

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