By JOEL COLEMAN
It was a little more than a week ago when Mississippi State head baseball coach John Cohen first contacted Wes Johnson about being the new pitching coach of the Bulldogs.
On Friday with a smile on his face, Johnson was introduced as the man who will fill that role, exuding an excitement for the chance to don the maroon and white.
“I believe this is the best place in the country to play college baseball,” Johnson said. “The staff and support this university gives this place is phenomenal.”
Johnson takes over as MSU’s pitching coach following the departure of Butch Thompson. Thompson was hired as the new head coach at Auburn last week.
“Butch was a great friend and a great coach and Auburn got a great one,” Cohen said. “But I’m going to tell you something right now, Mississippi State just got a great one, too.”
Johnson boasts a resume that includes 18 years of coaching experience, the last nine of which have been spent at the collegiate level.
His career included stops at Central Arkansas and Southern Arkansas before spending the last four seasons at Dallas Baptist University.
In his seasons at DBU, Johnson established a track record for development, overseeing 14 pitchers taken in the Major League Baseball Draft. Seven of those were taken in the top 10 rounds. This past summer, Johnson had five pitchers chosen in the first 12 rounds, more than any Southeastern Conference school.
The Sherwood, Arkansas native described the coaching methods that have led to that success on Friday.
“My philosophy is a little different,” Johnson said. “I 100 percent believe in what I call hyper-personalization. I’m not going to put a kid in a box and make him throw a ball low and away when that’s not his strength. He may have a power slider and need to pitch off that.
“With that hyper-personalization comes individual and different plans for each guy. One of the main things I try to do each day is relentlessly prioritize. Guys are going to make jumps and you have to prioritize again. If you wake up and do that every day, these guys will make that jump and fall into the system and plan you have for them.”
Johnson is looking forward to implementing his strategies with MSU’s pitchers. Having worked and molded plenty of hard throwers in the past, scouts believe Johnson is a good fit for the Bulldogs staff.
“I know a lot of scouts in this area,” Johnson said. “We had a lot of success with power arms (at DBU) and when the news broke (on Thursday) that I was coming here, I got five text messages from scouts in this area saying ‘Holy cow. Just wanted to let you know they’ve got 16 guys who have been 90 (miles per hour) or better.’
“I think we have the chance to have one of the best staffs in the whole country.”
Johnson went right to work on Friday, overseeing his staff’s bullpen sessions. Though the team portion of fall baseball has concluded, Cohen said that Johnson still has time to evaluate where MSU’s pitchers stand.
“He’s going to get to know our pitching staff and catchers and really our whole club one on one,” Cohen said. “He’ll meet with those guys and watch a ton of film. We still have three and a half or four weeks to watch bullpens. He’ll do a great job with that.”
Johnson got an early start on familiarizing himself with his staff thanks to the man that arguably knows them the best. Cohen said that Thompson contacted Johnson to discuss the MSU arms and other details of the program.
Like Thompson did, Cohen said that Johnson will have complete control of the pitching staff.
“He’s going to be in constant contact with those guys,” Cohen said. “He’s going to do everything he can to get the most out of every one of them. That’s his role and I think he’s very gifted.”
Johnson’s hire comes days after media reports indicated Jason Dietrich of Cal State Fullerton was the favorite to become MSU’s pitching coach. Dietrich was in Starkville last weekend, but according to sources, both MSU and Dietrich decided on Monday that Dietrich wasn’t a good fit for the position.
Cohen addressed the entire process on Friday.
“This is all about fit,” Cohen said. “Who is going to fit with our pitching staff? Who is going to fit with Mississippi State? I really consider this to be a family and I mean that. It’s got to be a great fit. I want to compliment (Dietrich) as well, because we brought him down for the weekend.
“We just agreed that we probably had a better fit.”