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Twins AFL Report - Week 3: All Wallner Does is Hit Home Runs


Steve Lein
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Matt Wallner continued to display his big power in Week 3 of the Arizona Fall League season with two more home runs, but Minnesota Twins hitting prospects playing with him in the desert combined to go 0-for-20 after having strong starts. Pitchers also had a rough go in Week 3, but one continued to impress while a pair of relievers did have nice bounce-back outings.

Overall on the week the Scottsdale Scorpions had just two wins in six games and are now 5-11 on the season. They will look to put together their first winning record of the AFL campaign in Week 4.

Matt Wallner: 3 games, 2-for-9, 2 HR, 3 R, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 3 K; .278/.400/.611 (1.011 OPS) overall.
While Wallner only had two hits on the week, they were both big ones and raised his OPS during the AFL season over .100 points from Week 2 to Week 3.

Wallner played right field and batted sixth in the lineup in Scottsdale’s first game of the week, a 7-6 loss to Glendale on Monday. Down 6-1 in the bottom of the eighth, Wallner drew a walk that put runners on first and second base before another walk loaded the bases. He then trotted home on Jeter Downs’ grand slam that pulled the Scorpions within one run. He was the final out of the game when he grounded out to the pitcher with the tying run on first base. He finished this one 0-for-4 with one walk, the run scored, and one strikeout.

In Tuesday’s 11-2 loss to Surprise Wallner was one of the few bright spots for Scottsdale as he scored both of their runs and as a team managed just five hits. In his first at-bat with one out in the second inning, Wallner blasted a moonshot solo home run to right field. His third home run of the AFL season made the score 2-1.

He also drew a walk in the ninth inning and came around to score on a single three batters later. In the game Wallner was 1-for-3 with two runs scored, the home run, a walk, and one strikeout. He played left field and again batted sixth.

The final action of the week for Wallner came in Thursday’s 11-4 win over Mesa where he batted fifth in the lineup and was back in right field. He struck out on three pitches in his first at-bat but didn’t waste any time in his second one to lead off the third inning. He took a big hack at the first pitch he saw and drove it over the fence the opposite way, giving his team a 5-1 lead at the time.

The game got a little interesting for Wallner from there. In the fifth and sixth innings he was hit by pitches in both at-bats. The second of those resulted in an RBI, but hit him in the face. He was subsequently removed from the game, requiring some stitches but avoiding anything serious.

In total, he reached base three times in the win, finishing with a 1-for-2 batting line with the home run, one strikeout, and two HBP’s and finished his week tied for second in the league in home runs with four in 36 at-bats on the season.

Zach Featherstone: 2 appearances, 1 2/3 IP, 3 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 K; 8.44 ERA, 2.25 WHIP (5 1/3 IP) overall.
Featherstone established a bit of a theme for Twins relief pitchers in AFL games this week with a forgettable first appearance that was followed by a rebound effort.

He was the first reliever out of the bullpen in Monday’s loss to Glendale to start the fifth inning. He struck out the first hitter he faced and then got out number two on a liner to center. But from there it was walk, single, single, single, and another walk before he was pulled with two runs already in and responsible for the bases being loaded. Two more runs would be charged to him before the inning was over and Scottsdale was down 5-1 after five.

Back in action for the Scorpions 11-4 win over the Solar Sox on Thursday, Featherstone was tabbed this time to pitch the eighth inning with his team up by seven. It was a one-two-three effort requiring thirteen pitches, with the final two hitters going down swinging.

In 5 1/3 innings thus far for Featherstone, he has a 9:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio he’ll look to improve upon in the season’s final three weeks.

Andrew Bechtold: 3 games, 0-for-9, R, 6 BB, 3 K; .235/.366/.324 (.689 OPS) overall.
Although Bechtold didn’t collect a hit on the week as he was moved up in the lineup, he did draw an impressive six walks in his three games, raising his OBP on the AFL season to .366.

In their 7-6 loss to the Desert Dogs on Monday, Bechtold was 0-for-3 but drew the first two of those free passes while serving as the DH and batting fifth in front of Wallner. He drew those walks in the fourth and sixth innings but made it no farther than first base.

Playing third base and moving up to third in the lineup in Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to Salt River, Bechtold drew three walks and struck out twice in his five plate appearances. After drawing a free pass in the first inning and being among those to load the bases, Bechtold got to third base with just one out, but Scottsdale was only able to score one run in front of him for an early lead. His other walks came in the third inning (stranded on second) and the ninth (that put the tying run in scoring position), but was unable to notch a run scored on the game.

Bechtold’s final game of the week came in Friday’s 6-5 win over Glendale, where he batted cleanup and played catcher. He was 0-for-4 on the game, but drew his final base on balls of the week in the eighth inning and later scored on a two-run double that ended up being big runs for the Scorpions as the game went to extra innings before they were able to win it in the eleventh.

Kody Funderburk: 1 start, 3 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 4 K; 10.29 ERA, 2.71 WHIP (7 IP) overall.
The left-handed Funderburk was tabbed to start Tuesday’s game against Surprise, which they ended up losing big. He was saddled with his second loss of the AFL season.

The Saguaros got to him early with the first three hitters of the game reaching base, the third with an RBI single to open the game’s scoring. Another RBI single later in the frame put the Scorpions in a 2-0 hole before their first at-bat. 

The second inning was much easier for Funderburk. He needed just six pitches to record three outs in one-two-three fashion, picking up a swinging strikeout to end the frame.

The third inning was more like the first, except this time the hits came more in the form of doubles. After a leadoff single Funderburk got his second strikeout of the outing, but the consecutive doubles that followed led to two more runs. To finish the inning and his outing, he did notch his fourth strikeout (swinging) on three pitches.

Michael Helman: 3 games, 0-for-11, 2 R, 2 BB, 1 K; .214/.333/.250 (.583 OPS) overall.
Like Bechtold, Helman did not have a hit in his three games, but due to a few base on balls did score a couple of runs in his time on the field in Week 3, including a game winner. 

He had to wait until Wednesday’s game against Salt River to see some action. He batted eighth and played left field. His at-bats included a pair of pop-outs to the infield, a lineout to center, and one strikeout. 

His next game was on Friday in the Scorpions extra-inning win over Glendale. His two walks in five plate appearances helped them win the game. The first of those free passes came in the seventh inning, and he would score the second run of the inning to tie the game at three. In the eighth his second walk loaded the bases before a Christian Koss double scored two to put the Scorpions ahead 5-4 at the time. After lining into a double play to end the 10th inning, Helman started the 11th on second base with the game still tied, after a (intentional?!) balk moved him to third, Helman was able to trot home for the walk-off winning run on a Koss single to right field. He played second base this time around and again batted eighth in the lineup.

Helman was again in the lineup, batting sixth and playing center field, for the Scorpions in Saturday’s 8-4 loss to Surprise. It was an 0-for-4 effort a game the Scorpions outhit the Saguaros 10-7 as a team. He reached base on an error to leadoff the second inning, grounded out to third in the fourth, popped out to first in the sixth, and flew out to center in the seventh to account for all his plate appearances.

Cody Laweryson: 2 appearances, 2 1/3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K; 1.00 ERA, 0.89 WHIP (9 IP) overall.
After impressing with strikeouts in the season’s first two weeks, Laweryson got his job done in different fashion in Week 3, lowering his ERA to 1.00 on the AFL season in the process with just one strikeout in two appearances.

In Wednesday's 3-2 loss against Salt River, Laweryson was brought on to start the sixth inning with the score already 3-2. The first batter reached base on an error, but he was able to retire the next three hitters with a strikeout and two more grounders to keep his team in front. He threw 15 pitches, with nine going for strikes (2 swinging) in this outing.

With his team down 6-1 after a bases loaded two-run single in the seventh, Laweryson was summoned with runners on first and second base and two outs in Saturday’s 8-4 loss to the Saguaros. Looking to limit the damage in the frame any further, Laweryson did allow his first big hit of the AFL season, a two-run double to the first batter he faced that made it 8-1, but he was not responsible for those runners. He got a lineout to end the inning after that and with a clean slate in the eighth delivered a scoreless frame. He allowed two hits in his 1 1/3 innings in this one and will look to get back to punching out hitters in Week 4.

Evan Sisk: 2 appearances, 2 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 K; 14.40 ERA, 2.60 WHIP (5 IP) overall.
Like Featherstone before him, Sisk had a rough first appearance followed by a solid second in Week 3 of AFL action.

In their big loss on Tuesday, Sisk was brought in from the bullpen to start the fifth inning with the score already 7-1 Surprise. He got the first two outs on a grounder and flyout around a walk, before a single put runners on first and second, and a double to the next hitter brought them both home for a 9-1 Saguaros lead. Another walk prompted a mound visit before he got the final out of the inning on a fly ball to center field.

In the Scorpions extra-inning win over Glendale on Friday, Sisk was tabbed for the sixth inning with the score 2-1 in favor of the Desert Dogs. He made quick work of the hitters he faced, retiring them in order with the first of those two outs coming via strikeouts on foul tips that teammate Bechtold held onto as the catcher.

Check back every week to see how Minnesota Twins prospects played during the AFL season, and please feel free to ask questions about the AFL and the players who are there!

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Laweryson is taking advantage of his opportunity. He'll be interesting to track in the upcoming minor league season to see if he keeps performing at this level and becomes a real prospect to watch.

Wallner is justifying his prospect status. He does a lot of damage when he connects; the only real question with him is will he connect enough as he rises in the ranks to be an effective hitter in the majors. The power plays, but as we've seen with Rooker, if you don't get the bat on the bat enough it might not matter.

So far the rest of the guys are not impressing, which is too bad. But part of why the Twins sent these guys down to the AFL was to sort this stuff out.

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56 minutes ago, mikelink45 said:

Wallner has left Sabato in the dust - not just here, but all season.  The others do not look like real prospects to me.

Sabato figured some parts out toward the end of the year. Still would like to see a higher batting average definitely, and I know it's the minors, but this is Joey Gallo:

Date G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
per 162 games 162 703 557 130 126 24 0 63 126 119 8 229 16 0 12 0 0 0        
Aug 4 to Sep 26, 2021 41 178 141 33 32 6 0 16 32 30 2 58 4 0 3 0 0 0 .227 .371 .610 .981 .229

They're still very similar for me, but I do have Wallner rated higher.

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1 hour ago, mikelink45 said:

Wallner has left Sabato in the dust - not just here, but all season.  The others do not look like real prospects to me.

He found something when he moved to Cedar Rapids.  It was only 97 PAs but he had a wRC+ of 165 and an OPS over 1.  I was really down on him but his performance in CR gives us some hope.  I did not like that pick at that time and it came the year after they took Cavaco which I really hated.  They could have take Stott or Carrol.  Stott ended last year at AAA and he could have been our SS next year and Carroll is a 60FV prospect.  Man, that ticks me off.

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Wallner has big power, it's just a question of whether or not his eye at the plate will play. The AFL seems to be somewhere between A+ and AA competition level in my opinion. Since Wallner has 40 grade speed, he's going to need to rake in order to provide any value at the MLB level.

Right now, Wallner is .278/.400/.611 OPS 1.011 with a 13.3% BB and 35.6% K rate and a .333 BABIP. Calculating BABIP (46PA - 2HBP - 6BB - 16K - 4HR = 18 balls in play) and (10H - 4HR = 6 hits in play).

I typically view the AFL as just experience with the expectation of high performance in the AFL, but without the expectation that high performance will carry into AA or higher.

Poor performances at the AFL can be sample size or maybe a sign coaches are having them work on something in specific, but I think it's a lot more problematic for older prospects (24+) like most of the Twins represented here. Sisk, Featherstone, Funderburk, Bechtold and Helman are all 24-25 and they should be dominant in the AFL if they have what it takes to move ahead.

 

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Thanks for the report, Steve.  And isn't it great that there still is some baseball for a handful of Twins to be playing.

Of the group in the AFL this year, Wallner is the only one who most consider a top prospect.  So it is great that he is having some success.  As for the others, it is a chance to get noticed.  Maybe another coach/scout will see something they like and one will get picked in the Rule 5 draft.  In other cases, maybe one will take a step forward and use it as a stepping stone to a bigger 2022.  

In any case, Steve, it is great reading about actual baseball...thanks. 

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Wallner needs to make more contact, for sure... but I also think that missing 2+ months in the middle of the season didn't really allow him to make adjustments. And then he kind of had to start over late in the season again. Would sure be nice to see a full season. 

Sabato's struggles early seemed to be about bat speed, but it's also important to remember the effects on baseballs in the Florida State League. Saps power for most.... For him to get out of Florida and start putting up big power numbers is re-encouraging. 

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11 hours ago, Seth Stohs said:

Wallner needs to make more contact, for sure... but I also think that missing 2+ months in the middle of the season didn't really allow him to make adjustments. And then he kind of had to start over late in the season again. Would sure be nice to see a full season. 

Sabato's struggles early seemed to be about bat speed, but it's also important to remember the effects on baseballs in the Florida State League. Saps power for most.... For him to get out of Florida and start putting up big power numbers is re-encouraging. 

This begs the question why did they take a guy in the 1st round with questionable bat speed.  Was injury hampering his bat speed?  If not, how does a guy with questionable bat speed and no defensive value get taken ion the 1st round?

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4 hours ago, Major League Ready said:

This begs the question why did they take a guy in the 1st round with questionable bat speed.  Was injury hampering his bat speed?  If not, how does a guy with questionable bat speed and no defensive value get taken ion the 1st round?

It's not unusual for a college player to have a longer swing coming into the minors; the same way that you can get away with stuff in A-ball that you can't in AAA or MLB, there's stuff you can get away with in college you can't in the pros. sometimes I guy can quicken it up and shorten things without sacrificing power and they may have seen that possibility with Sabato. I think we'll no a lot more about whether he's a real prospect or not next season. Lot of guys that really needed to make adjustments in the minors after a year of not seeing competition. Was Sabato one of those? Maybe, maybe not, but the excuse will be gone next year.

Wallner has been better to date. The AFL time to date seems to confirm what we saw on him during the year: good eye at the plate, excellent power, loads of Ks. He's going to have to either: cut down on the Ks or take even more walks (preferably both of course) to push his way up the ladder, but there's potential there. AA should tell us a lot about him. If more refined pitchers keep the Ks high, lower the walks, and prevent him from barreling up on the ball...then he's gonna wash out. If he can keep mashing and improve the amount of contact he makes, then he's got a real chance.

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