After losing to Southern Miss in the first round of the 2022 NCAA baseball tournament and pitching coach Jason Kelly leaving LSU for the head coach position at the University of Washington, LSU’s head coach Jay Johnson knew he needed to make a statement in terms of preparing for the 2023 season.
On Sunday, Johnson shocked the professional and college baseball world by hiring the Minnesota Twins’ pitching coach Johnson as LSU’s new pitching coach.
The hiring is surprising for several reasons. First off, the Minnesota Twins are currently in first place in the AL Central and in the middle of their 2022 season. Second, Wes Johnson has found great success in the MLB and created a new form of respect for his coaching talent since he left Arkansas in 2018 to join the Twins. Finally, Johnson was the first coach in four decades to go straight from coaching at the college level to the MLB back in 2018.
The reasons why this hiring is so unprecedented in the baseball coaching community adds another feather in the cap of LSU head coach Jay Johnson. “I couldn’t be more excited to announce Wes Johnson as our pitching coach at LSU,” Jay Johnson said.
“We have hired, in my opinion, the best pitching coach in the country at any level. The success he has had at the highest level of baseball speaks to Wes’ ability to communicate, teach, develop and motivate. Our current and future pitchers have a coach in Wes that will get the best out of them and help them develop into one of the best pitching staffs in college baseball on an annual basis.”
When Jay Johnson was hired to replace LSU Head Coach and legend Paul Mainieri last offseason, this was exactly the kind of offseason move Scott Woodward believed he was capable of. Jay and Wes Johnson were on the Minnesota Twins’ coaching staff together before Jay accepted the head coaching job at the University of Arizona.
Wes Johnson is also no stranger to SEC baseball. Prior to his short career in the MLB, Johnson was the pitching coach at Arkansas for two seasons and at Mississippi State for a year.
“I knew Wes was the right fit for our program when I hired him, and he brought his passion for the game and for the Razorbacks every single day. Wes’ energy and tireless work ethic was infectious from our players to our staff. I know he had a positive impact on everyone he worked with and every aspect of our program,” said Arkansas’ head coach Dave Van Horn.
Wes Johnson’s contract is a three-year term sheet worth $1.14 million total and a $380,000 yearly base salary with postseason incentives. Johnson will also receive a $25,000 relocation incentive and an $800 per month vehicle allowance. Johnson’s contract itself is also surprising because there were rumors that LSU agreed to pay him three times more than what he was making with the Twins but, the Athletic reported that he was making $400,000 per year with the organization.
Wes Johnson will start at LSU later this week after coaching the Twins in their five-game series against the Cleveland Guardians. His hiring is effective upon the completion of LSU’s background check process and approval by the university’s Board of Supervisors.
It remains to be seen how Johnson’s hiring will affect LSU’s recruiting efforts but, it is an immediate upgrade from Jason Kelly, and it is common knowledge that LSU’s Achilles heel last season was its bullpen. Jay Johnson has used his connections to put his fingerprints on the 2023 season and the Tigers’ future.
“I believe Wes will help us recruit and develop a large number of future Major League pitchers at LSU and form them into a dominant staff for years to come. This is a huge day for LSU Baseball,” Johnson said.
Inevitably, Jay Johnson’s next move will be to replace recruiting coordinator Dan Fitzgerald who was hired as the head coach at Kansas a few weeks ago. The Tigers’ 2023 season already has a high ceiling but expectations in Baton Rouge will surely be high as well.