Twins name Maki pitching coach, Suggs bullpen coach

July 2nd, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- There's no easy time for a team to change the leadership of its pitching department in the middle of a season in which it leads the division. For the Twins, the last week-plus has been a particularly fraught time for a staff that has blown five late leads against the Guardians in an 11-game span -- now punctuated by the departure of pitching coach Wes Johnson to LSU on Friday.

Amid all that chaos, the club is confident that it is leaving the reins in good hands. The Twins announced Friday morning that bullpen coach Pete Maki has been promoted to pitching coach and run prevention coordinator Colby Suggs has been moved up to bullpen coach.

Does that make this a particularly tough time for Maki and Suggs to be stepping into new roles? They don't seem to think so.

"I mean, bring it on, man," Maki said. "Bring on the struggles. We're going to go through periods of stink sometimes. I mean, it is what it is. We get to play every day in this sport, as many people have said before into these microphones. We'll do a good job today with what we got."

Even after Johnson's abrupt and nearly unprecedented move back to the collegiate ranks, the Twins hope this won't be an overly jarring transition for the clubhouse or for Maki and Suggs. Throughout this transition away from Johnson, coaches and players alike have noted how the Twins' pitching braintrust has always worked as a group -- and Maki and Suggs have been part of that group all along.

Who are Maki and Suggs?
Having never pitched professionally, Maki said he never thought a future as a big league pitching coach was possible, but it was natural for the Twins to move him up after he had originally moved into the MLB environment as interim bullpen coach in '20 and had the interim tag removed in '21. He had previously been the organization's Minor League pitching coordinator and coached at Duke University, Columbia University and the University of New Haven before that.

"He's now learned how to adapt what he did in college and then in the Minor Leagues to what he's doing at the big league level," said president of baseball operations Derek Falvey. "This is the next step, naturally, in that journey. I do know there's been a few teams that have been asking questions of our staff and people and otherwise about his potential fit as a Major League pitching coach for other clubs. … I know Rocco [Baldelli, manager] feels really confident about the role he can play there."

Suggs had been one of Johnson's trusted lieutenants for years. Johnson actually saw Suggs pitch as a high schooler in Texas, long before Suggs went to the Marlins at No. 73 overall in the 2013 MLB Draft and retired in '16. He later served as Johnson's bullpen coach at the University of Arkansas in '18 before moving to the Twins with Johnson in an advanced scouting capacity for the '19 season.

"He was a great mentor to me," Suggs said. "Here’s the thing about Wes, he wants to win. We’re both winning people. We want to win. I like the way he went about his business. He’s a great friend. I love him. So if you want to label me a Wes guy, you can. But now I’ve been working with Pete for three years, so I’m also a Pete guy. And a Luis Ramirez [assistant pitching coach] guy."

What will it look like to replace Johnson?
From a baseball standpoint, the transition is eased by the fact that both Maki and Suggs have been deeply embedded within this group for years. They won't have to learn about their pitchers; the players won't have to get used to them.

Several pitchers noted that so much of how Johnson, Maki and Suggs have operated over the years folds more generally into the Twins' organizational pitching philosophy, which works in concert with the front office, Baldelli and baseball operations vice president Josh Kalk. Falvey calls it the "pitching department," which operates as a group.

Johnson, who had previously been the leading voice, will drop out -- but the messages, philosophy and information being conveyed to the pitchers will remain the same. They're not worried about that.

"If someone has something going with family or has to leave, it's pretty much a seamless transition because everyone has the same vision, Wes being the director," Caleb Thielbar said. "Obviously, everyone is very in-tune to how the organization is working and what we want throughout the organization. … There's the same information, the same approach, the same style throughout the organization, just with different personalities."

"It's no one individual that's really had a true dictation over everything," Tyler Duffey said. "I think we're in a good spot."

One significant element the Twins do lose with this transition, though, is Johnson's relentless energy and grasp of the mental side of his pitchers, particularly in how to best foster their self-confidence and positivity. On that side, the Twins still have their sports psychologists, but it's undeniable that Johnson's presence will be missed, with catcher Ryan Jeffers noting that he hopes to take on some of that responsibility himself.

And at their core, Maki is much more soft-spoken and low-key than Johnson -- not that the Twins consider that a bad thing. It's just different. They won't ask him to fill Johnson's shoes in that sense. They've operated with different personalities on their coaching staffs over the years, and they always felt they're at their best when those coaches are able to be themselves.

"His introversion and introspection sometimes gets misinterpreted by being just quiet in general, but he's really thoughtful," Falvey said. "He's really introspective. But when you sit in a room and you hear Pete say, when we say, 'Pete, what do you think?' 'What do you think the plan should be?' The things that come out thereafter are very thoughtful, very deep, and in a way that can actually really make someone better."

"I think it's just going to be different," Maki said. "No one can replace Wes. We're going to be ourselves. And we'll take the results with us being who we are."

What will be important to make the transition work?
The transition began during the club's five-game series in Cleveland. For the final two games, Maki moved from the bullpen to his new post in the dugout, while Suggs moved from his place in the video room to the bullpen.

The biggest element for Maki will be in developing relationships with the starting pitchers. Sonny Gray and Chris Archer had been very outspoken about how close they had been to Johnson, and Maki's focus had previously been on the relievers. He knows the starters' stuff, but those relationships still need development.

Maki will also need to get used to the flow of helping Baldelli make pitching decisions in real time in the dugout, but the big emphasis will be on turning his focus to the starting staff.

"I haven't had that in-dugout, in-game conversation with them," Maki said. "That's important, even if they're not pitching and they're in the dugout during the game, just the conversations that take place. I know them well. I look forward to getting to know them better, and I need to."

As for Suggs, his immense value to the team had come in his ability to prepare research and scouting reports for his pitchers for upcoming series, and much of that work would happen during games. He still plans to do that advance work, and it should be helpful for relievers to have Suggs available to them during games to discuss those reports and those strategies, too. Falvey noted that several veteran relievers had been among the biggest advocates for Suggs to receive this promotion, knowing his value to them.

But the quantity of Suggs' duties will grow with this promotion, and the Twins will have to feel out a balance for all of that work that still needs to get done.

"It’s going to be a little bit more compressed, to say the least," Suggs said. "I’m going to have to get a lot more work done in a little bit shorter window, but going out there and being able to help those guys feel prepared. Not that Pete didn’t do that. He obviously made them really prepared as well. But it’s going to be fun to go out there and hang out."