STARKVILLE -- Last week, Mississippi State head baseball coach John Cohen promised one of the nation's elite pitching coaches would be joining his program soon.
State's skipper announced Friday 18-year coaching veteran Wes Johnson as MSU's new pitching coach. Known nationally for his player development and ability to increase velocity throughout his staff, Johnson arrives in Starkville after serving as the pitching coach the past four years at Dallas Baptist University. During his tenure in Texas, DBU advanced to three NCAA Regionals, had 14 pitchers drafted and set single-season records for earned run average, strikeouts, saves and every other major statistical pitching category.
"His background and resume speaks for itself," said Cohen, whose last two pitching coaches went on to become head coaches alongside him in the Southeastern Conference. "Wes is one of the premier pitching coaches in the country. His teaching skills and adaptability will make this transition seamless."
Johnson's track record for development is apparent in the fact he has had 24 pitchers drafted or sign professional contracts in the last eight years. This past summer, Johnson had five pitchers chosen in the first 12 rounds, more than any Southeastern Conference school. The last three seasons, Johnson has had seven pitchers selected in the top-10 rounds, which would have tied for the most in the SEC during that span. Dallas Baptist had only six pitchers drafted in the first 10 rounds in the 44 years prior to Johnson's arrival (1967-2011).
"It is a tremendous honor to join the Mississippi State baseball program and I want to thank Scott Stricklin and head coach John Cohen for this wonderful opportunity," Johnson said. "Having lived in the South my entire life surrounded by college baseball, I am very aware of MSU's tradition and prestige. I look forward to working with this talented pitching staff and bringing the very best out of them as we continue our quest to succeed at the highest level."
Johnson was a key component in DBU winning a school-record 46 games in 2015, hosting their first NCAA Regional and earning the program's highest final ranking in school history. The Sherwood, Ark., native had three pitchers earn All-America honors and two more earn all-conference accolades from the Missouri Valley Conference.
Arguably his greatest success story is former DBU righty Brandon Koch, who arrived in Dallas as a shortstop and left as the greatest closer in school history. Working daily with Johnson, Koch went from a 7.20 ERA his freshman year to breaking the school record with a 0.64 ERA in 2014. That season he and fellow pitcher Paul Voelker earned first-team All-MVC honors, leading the staff to new school records in strikeouts (506) and batting average against (.248), while winning the MVC Tournament and receiving the No. 2 seed in the TCU Regional.
In 2015, Koch shattered the school record with 15.91 strikeouts per nine innings. As a result, the hard-throwing righty earned All-America honors from four different media outlets in his final year with the Patriots, as well as being named an NCBWA Stopper of the Year finalist.
"Player development and building relationships are my biggest priorities with my pitchers," Johnson explained. "This group of arms will work hard and throw harder. I truly believe this staff I inherit is one of the best in the country and I will do everything I can to ensure they maximize their talents to where they have success in Starkville and at the next level."
Prior to DBU, Johnson served as the pitching coach at Central Arkansas for three seasons, where his pitchers set Division I school records in ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, opponent batting average and fewest walks. Johnson had five players who were either drafted or signed professionally during his time in Conway.
Sandwiched in between stints at UCA, Johnson mentored pitchers as an assistant at Southern Arkansas. Led by Hayden Simpson, the 16th overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, five more of Johnson's pupils were drafted or went pro. In 2009, he helped lead the Muleriders to a 52-11 overall mark after owning a top-10 ERA nationally while setting school records in strikeouts and fewest walks allowed. The 499 strikeouts broke a Gulf South Conference record and were a big reason why USA was ranked No. 1 in the Division II Top-25 for 20 weeks.
Aside from his collegiate coaching experience, Johnson spent four seasons as the head coach of Abundant Life High School in Sherwood, Ark. During his tenure there, Johnson guided the Owls to an impressive 102-25 overall record. In his final two campaigns for ALHS, he led the team to two straight state championship games, which resulted in a state championship in 2006 and a runner-up finish in 2007. While coaching high school and American Legion from 1997-2007, 28 players signed an NCAA Letter of Intent. In addition, four players were drafted.
Johnson earned a degree in marketing in December 1994 from the University of Arkansas Monticello. While at DBU, Johnson earned 33 hours working toward his masters in kinesiology. Off the field, he and his wife Angie have three children -- Ryan (22), Anna (16) and Ava (6). The Johnsons attend First Baptist Church in Midlothian, Texas.
The new assistant will spend his Friday in Starkville meeting his new pitchers and catchers, before immediately hitting the road to recruit as the Bulldogs prepare for the early signing period Nov. 11-18.
"Recruiting is the lifeblood of any program and MSU has done a great job in landing three straight top-10 recruiting classes," said Johnson, who made DBU one of three programs nationally to have a pitcher drafted in the top three rounds in each of the last three years. "Along with Coach Cohen and Coach (Nick) Mingione, I will work tirelessly toward our goal of making sure the best high school players in the country attend Mississippi State."