Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

1-on-1 With Mississippi State Pitching Coach Wes Johnson

Mississippi State pitching coach Wes Johnson talked one-on-one with Gene's Page about the MSU pitching staff and his pitching philosophy.

When you watched the bullpens with your pitchers, what was the first thing that you looked at?
"There is never one specific thing. I am big on how they are getting down on the mound through different body parts. For example, are they on their toe or on their heel when they come down the mound? Are they driving down the mound with their heel or their toe? That is important to me. I want them in the heel, in the butt so to speak. I wanted to see that because it will tell me how their hips work.

"I also wanted to see their arm slot. Was it a big circle or a small circle? And how was that translating down on the mound?

"I tell my guys it is one thing to throw 95 but it is another thing to throw 95 with command. I want command. If you look at those five guys that we had last year (at Dallas Baptist). Two of them hit 97, two hit 99 and one hit 100. And they all had command. I also want them to be healthy as well.

"But those were the things that I was looking at in the pens.

"We also have a fantastic video department here. Blake is the head of it. And he is outstanding. I probably spent eight hours watching the guys yesterday, and another two on the plane coming to Starkville. I broke them all down. I have a sheet that I fill out that breaks it down on each guy. That is how you write the development plan for each young man."

But you only have a few months to install the development plan for each player. How will you do that in those few months?
"I think that is where trust comes into play. I think the biggest thing that we have to do right now is to try and establish a little trust. One of the things that I am big on is telling them the why about what we are doing. I have to go in there and show them why I want to change something.

"As an example, I'll pick Dakota (Hudson). I have a couple of small things that I want him to do differently. But I am going to show him a Big Leaguer doing it. Then I will show him where he is at. It is a compare and contrast type thing. I think that is how trust starts to happen."

You mentioned Dakota. Do you think there is more velocity in his arm?
"Absolutely. But I tell our guys there is always a next level. The young man who threw 101 for us (at Dallas Baptist) I told him I didn't know if he would throw harder than that. He came in my office and asked me about that. I told him the next level for him is his breaking pitch. I told him that we needed to get the velo up on his breaking pitch.

"But if you are asking me if I believe there is another level on Dakota's fastball, I absolutely do. There are some things that I am going to clean up with his front leg that will help his kinetic chain speed up a little more. That is how your body gets energy.

"For example, there was a company called Somax a few years ago that did a study on the hips. They said for every mile an hour that you sped up your hips you got three miles an hour out of your arm. Dakota rotates really well now but I think he can continue to rotate even more."

All ten of the freshmen pitchers topped out at 90 miles per hour or higher. Do you see the potential for more velo in their arms due to the strength of their arms and how projectable most of their bodies are?
"Oh absolutely. I can speak about them a little bit. It is one thing to watch them on video and it is another thing to see them in person and see how they compete, see the entire dynamic of their body language.

"Of all of the guys that we had last year that made those monster jumps (in velocity), I think the hardest throwing kid that we had came in throwing 93 miles per hour. He jumped to 97. But the kid who jumped to 100, he was a 91 mile per hour kid in high school. That was his top. He was consistently 88-90 and hit 91 once.

"The thing that is so big with the kids is the thing that I call the buy-in. It is easy to work hard if we both have the same plan. I am excited about these kids. They are hungry and want to continue improving. And that is what it takes. I have a feeling these kids are going to do it."

When you are recruiting pitchers can you see things that causes you to believe that they can dramatically increase their velocity?
"There are certain things that we look for. I don't want to give my secrets away but there are a couple of things that I really lock into. But there are also times where I look at a guy and he doesn't have those two things but he has some arm strength, looks athletic and you check out all the other stuff where the coach loves him, he is a hard worker. Then, at the end of the day, you take a chance on that kid."

You are considered the velocity increase guru in college baseball. How did you get to that level of expertise?
"When I played I was getting letters in high school. I was a two-way guy. I know I am a little guy but I was a decent football player. I dislocated my shoulder my senior year so I quit pitching. The surgery that I required back then was going to keep me out for my senior season of football and I wouldn't be back until midway of my senior year of baseball. I decided that I would rehab instead.

"Then I went to Texas Wesleyan my freshman year of college and finished playing ball at Arkansas-Monticello. I was an infielder and hitter. I had two tools, I could put the ball in play and I could run."

From there you became one of the top pitching coaches in all of college baseball. How did that happen?
"In the late '90s and early 2000 I was still coaching high school baseball. We were really good offensively. I will shoot you straight. Back in those days my pitching philosophy was we are going to score 10 can you keep them to 9?

"But we lost in the semi-finals four years in a row. And we were always getting beat by that guy. The other team always had that power arm, that dude.

"So, I started investigating. I got to know a guy by the name of Pat Harrison who used to be the head coach at Ole Miss. Pat is now back in Arkansas and has a clinic and gives a lot of lessons. Pat and I started toying with some summer ball. This was before select ball is what it is now. I told him that we needed to do something different with pitching. He introduced me Brent Strom who is the Houston Astros pitching coach. Brent was awesome.

"There was also another guy, Ron Wolforth from the Texas Baseball Ranch. He and I are really close. He does a phenomenal job and has been very instrumental in this process. We have swapped a lot of stuff over the years.

"I am an old math teacher and I love numbers. I believe this, if it is important then you will measure it. You measure everything with a radar gun. It doesn't matter if you are throwing a medicine ball into the wall or anything else. That gives you feedback. Then you have to decide if that is relevant or not relevant. If it was relevant, then we kept it. If it wasn't, then we got rid of it.

"That is kind of how this has happened for me."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on sports network.

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