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Less than a week ago, we learned that Wes Johnson was leaving the Twins to take the pitching coach job at Louisiana State University. He remained with the team through their series in Cleveland, but his time with the Twins is now complete. On Friday, the Twins officially named Pete Maki as their pitching coach. He has been working as the Twins bullpen coach since 2020 when Bob McClure was not able to assume the job due to Covid. The 39-year-old joined the Twins organization before the 2018 season as the minor league pitching coordinator. Like Johnson, Maki was hired out of the college ranks. He coached at the University of New Haven for two seasons. Then he became the assistant pitching coach at Columbia University from 2008 through 2015 when he became the pitching coach at Duke University where he remained until the Twins hired him. Luis Ramirez remains the Twins assistant pitching coach. Maki spent time in the Twins dugout the past couple of games to work with Johnson in that location in preparation for taking over the position. Colby Suggs was hired by the Twins before the 2019 season as an advanced scout. Before 2021, he was named the team's coordinator of run prevention. He actually pitched at the University of Arkansas from 2011 through 2013. He became the 73rd overall pick in the 2013 draft by the Marlins and spent four seasons pitching in their organization. He worked and coached at private facilities for a couple of years before being named the bullpen coach at his alma mater, the University of Arkansas where he worked with Wes Johnson. Speaking of Johnson, he took to Twitter to leave a message for Twins fans.
D1 Baseball's Kendall Rogers broke news today that LSU has hired Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson as their new pitching coach, resulting in a midseason change of one of the Twins' most important coaches. Johnson was hired prior to the 2019 season from Arkansas, where he was the pitching coach, a trailblazing move for a MLB team. Now he will return to that same conference as a rival team's pitching coach. Losing Johnson during the offseason would be a story in and of itself. The Twins pitching staff ranked 22nd in ERA (4.50) in 2018, the year before Johnson replace Garvin Alston. In 2019, they improved to 8th in the league with a 4.18 ERA. This year, the team ERA is 3.79, ranking 11th in the majors, despite pitching being perceived as the team's Achilles heal heading into the season. At the very least, he's been seen as a cornerstone in the organization's renewed focus on pitching over the last several years. Having the move happen in the middle of the baseball season, especially when the team is in first place in the AL Central, makes it a major story. Per Dan Hayes, the Twins just found out about his talks with LSU on Saturday. He also reports that his talks with the Twins did not include a request for more money. With the news being so unexpected, it is not clear what factors played into this sudden decision. Hayes does add that LSU was very aggressive, so it may be that he is just interested in LSU. They just completed their first season with new coach Jay Johnson, who guided them to a 40-22 record in the SEC, good for third place in the West. Aaron Gleeman reports that Johnson's tenure will end after this week's 5-game series versus the Cleveland Guardians. At that time his role will be filled by bullpen coach Pete Maki, although fully replacing him will be a group effort. Maki has been with the coaching staff since 2020, and been in the organization since 2017 when he joined them as their minor league pitching coordinator. More to come. Feel free to comment as additional news breaks.
Kohl Stewart on the 2019 offseason: “For the first time, with our program and what’s been implemented, I feel 100 percent confident with the plan they have in front of me and I feel like I can go out and execute it. I learned a lot last year whenever I got up in the big leagues for those eight appearances and I just feel like I knew exactly what I needed to do going into this offseason and I feel like I’m on a straight line, focused on what I’ve got to do.” Stewart on getting a shot with the Twins: “I wasn’t ready until this year. I didn’t ever buy in, I didn’t ever feel like I had a real good plan in place, I didn’t feel like I knew how to use the stuff that I had. And when I got to sit down with Josh Kalk and Pete Maki and all those guys in spring training and we talked about the one-seamer and we talked about throwing the cutter/slider off of it, throwing the curveball more often behind that, I finally felt like I was confident enough to actually be here. I never felt like that until this year.” “It’s a big hurdle. Everybody in the minor leagues, it’s always messing with your mind. ‘Am I ever going to get there, am I good enough, can I play up there with those guys?’ So to get up here and to finally experience it is pretty awesome, pretty special.” “I struggled for awhile in the minor leagues and finally this year, right after May I would say, I turned it on, I felt confident, I knew what to do on the mound, I had 100 percent confidence in what I was doing and it paid off.” “The meeting is spring training, it was so eye-opening talking to those guys. They found a whole bunch of pitchers I had similar stuff with based on movement plots and based on velocity. They basically said ‘this is how these guys use their stuff. This is how Roy Halladay uses his sinker and cutter. This is how Marcus Stroman uses his sinker and slider. Your stuff is very close, we can get it closer. We can use slow cameras, we can use the Rapsodo, we can help you create these pitches. Let’s see how these guys compliment their stuff and how they pitch.’” “So I spent a lot of time with Josh and those guys looking at that video, figuring out exactly what my plan was so by the time I took the mound in April, I knew exactly what I needed to do. And if I struggled in April and May, they said ‘look, you might go through some rough patches. This is new, it’s going to be hard for you to adjust.’ But once I had full confidence in what we were doing it was like, man, this pretty incredible.” Stewart on new pitching coach Wes Johnson: “Wes and I have talked a lot about my slider/cutter. We’re trying to get it a little bit more depth and a little bit more velocity and we think that they’ll tunnel a little bit better together so as a hitter it’ll be hard to account for those two things. Wes is pretty special at it. We’ve already talked about things like different pitch grips, moving the baseball around in my hand and how to make it happen. And we have actual data that can prove that it’s working, so it’s pretty awesome.” Stewart on heading into the 2019 season: “I never thought last year I’d be in the big leagues, but I never worried about it and I think that was why I was able to stay focused and not get too caught up in the transactions, playing GM when you’re in the minor leagues or on the verge of being in the big leagues. You just can’t get caught up in it, if you do, you’re going to lose track of what is in front of you.” “I probably will have a chance to start in Triple-A this year and I need to go down there and do my job and earn a spot. Everybody’s gotta earn it. There’s only 25 spots here and they’re not giving them away, so make them notice you.” Stewart was far from the only guy to reveal some interesting insights into what’s going on behind the scenes. Here are some more tidbits that I thought were particularly interesting: Rocco Baldelli on preparing for his rookie season as manager: “The prep that goes into everything going into the first year is kinda striking. It hits you when you realize you’re going to go over everything that goes on from top to bottom in all regards in all aspects. When you actually line it all up, it’s a lot, but it’s very important to do.” “You don’t change things just for the sake of changing them, but until you look at it all, you just don’t know. And after being in the same organization for basically my entire baseball career, except for one year, I had a lot to learn. I had a lot of people to get to know here. And trying to do all that in one offseason, it’s been a lot, but really at the end of the day the most important thing right now for me is getting down to Fort Myers and getting on the field.” “That’s actually what I’m looking forward to the most too, because I’m tired of talking, I’m ready to get out there and to watch these players.” Joe Mauer in response to a question about the opener/third time through the order: “I always say scouting reports go out the window after that first at bat. You’re making adjustments, he’s making adjustments. You’ve gotta figure out what your pitcher is capable of doing that day, not just what he should be doing.” “Brad Radke was one of the best all-time control pitchers of our game, of his time. One thing he told me that really stuck with me was out of his 36 starts, he might only have all four pitches working maybe four times. So what are you going to do when he has three pitches working? What are you going to do when he has two pitches working? So I took that as a hitter, as well, to kind of eliminate pitches.” Taylor Rogers on Eddie Guardado’s suggestion: “He pointed out one day that I could maybe throw a slider along with the curveball. So we worked on it for probably about a month or so, pregame and everything like that, and felt comfortable enough with it to bring it in the game and just got some immediate results with it. So I’m kinda looking forward to bringing ‘er back this year and working on it for an entire season.” There’s always a lot of prospects at TwinsFest. One of my favorite things about listening through all these interviews was hearing all the guys talk about the climb up through the minor leagues. Trevor Larnach on difference from college to pros: “Pro ball, there’s starters every night that go low to mid 90s or even high upper 90s. College, it’s more like maybe high 88/low 90s, they’re going to hit their spots, they’re going to try and really get you out as a pitcher. I think that really helped me out coming into pro ball. Coming to E-Town and Cedar Rapids, you’re facing some good arms every night so you kinda gotta be locked in, but at the same time, for me at least, I had the edge of an approach that I’ve developed throughout the years in college.” Royce Lewis on his first full season in pro ball: “There’s times where you can go super hard and there’s times where you can reel back a little bit. And then learning how to work off the field on your game, getting more rest, eating the right ways. I just ate Chick-fil-A all the time, that’s my favorite place to go. I started to stop eating that and started to cook home-cooked meals, so little things like that will help you get prepared for the game.” Brent Rooker on the jump from A-Ball to Double-A: “Once you get to Double-A there’s more experience on the pitching staff. The stuff is about the same as it is in High-A, it’s just a little bit more refined, they can kinda do what they want to with it. They have better pitch plans, better game plans against you, how they want to beat you, how they want to get you out. So the level of talent kind of stays the same, it’s just that those guys are a little bit more experienced and kinda have a better idea of what they want to do.” LaMonte Wade on the difference from Double-A to Triple-A: “The pitchers throw less fastballs in fastball counts at Triple-A. They have more command of all their pitches. They really know how to get you out. They’re veteran guys that have been there before. You face a lot of big leaguers rehabbing, a lot of ex-big leaguers still playing, so they know how to make outs. It’s always adjustments. It’s a game of adjustments, and I think in Triple-A you really see that.” Nick Gordon on the move up to Triple A: “It’s not so much about talent when you get to Triple-A. Everybody’s talented, everybody can play the game, that’s why they’re there. It’s about being smart, using your head and knowing situations, knowing the guy you’re facing the day before, knowing the team that you’re playing against, knowing who likes to shift, knowing who likes to do this and do that. I think really it’s about learning the game and being a student of the game is really what Triple-A brings to you.” Stephen Gonsalves on moving from Triple-A to the big leagues: “Everyone has that talent once you get to Triple-A but I think it’s that mental toughness. Guys go about their business a certain way. They all have their routines. They’re much more professional. It’s just a matter of trusting who you are as a person.” Even some of the less substantial questions and small talk was pretty enjoyable. While interviewing Lewis Thorpe, Dick Bremer mentioned that his son Eric was broadcasting games for the Brisbane Bandits in the Australian Baseball League. Bremer asked “is he eating well, is he doing OK?” Thorpe, who did color commentary alongside Bremer’s son for a few games, replied “yeah, he’s doing well, he hasn’t got eaten by a crocodile or anything like that” in his amazing Australian accent.