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Twins AFL Report - Week 6: Wallner Goes Yard Again

Steve Lein

In a continuing theme for the 2021 Arizona Fall League season, the power hitting Matt Wallner again sent one out of the park in Week 6, and finished among the league’s leaders in OPS. Each of their relief pitchers also got one final outing, so keep reading to see how all your Minnesota Twins prospects did during the final week of the AFL season.

In a bit of a scheduling quirk with the AFL, the Scottsdale Scorpions played only three games in the final week of the season, going 1-2 to finish with an overall record of 12-18, good for second place in the East Division and fifth overall.

Matt Wallner: 2 games, 4-for-8, R, HR (6, tied for 4th in AFL), 2 RBI, BB, 2 K; .303/.405/.606 (1.011 OPS) overall.

Wallner got the start in two games on the week, batting fifth in both contests and one game each in the opposite corners of the outfield.

In Tuesday’s 9-7 loss at the Surprise Saguaros, he was in right field and led the team with three hits on the day. Down 8-4 at the time and in his third at-bat, Wallner picked up the first of those three hits with a single the opposite way that put runners on first and second with no outs. Unfortunately that’s as far as he’d make it as their rally attempt was snuffed out with three consecutive outs after that. He’d add another single in the seventh inning with a line drive to right field, and this time ended up stranded on third. With the score 9-5 going into the top of the ninth, Wallner followed a leadoff single with his sixth home run of the AFL season, a blast into right field that made it the final of 9-7.

Wallner finished off his time in the AFL playing left field in Friday’s 4-3 loss against the Mesa Solar Sox. He grounded out to first base in his first at-bat in the second inning, then singled in the fourth with a ground ball into right field. The Scorpions took a 1-0 lead in the inning on four total singles and a sac fly, but Wallner ended up stranded on third after reaching there with only one out. After a double, single, and another sac fly made it 2-0 in the fifth, he drew a walk to put runners on first and second. They extended the lead to 3-0 with another single before a double-play ball ended any further threat. Leading 3-2 in the seventh and final inning of the contest, Wallner went down swinging before the Solar Sox clubbed two home runs in the bottom half to walk it off.

The power hitting outfielder ends his time in the AFL with an outstanding .303/.405/.606 batting line, good for a 1.011 OPS that led the Scorpions roster and was 10th overall in the league. His six home runs were tied for third in league play while his 15 RBI also led the Scorpions and ranked 10th in the league. For comparison, Royce Lewis won the AFL MVP award during the 2019 season with a .353/.411/.565 line and .975 OPS, having 85 at-bats compared to Wallner’s 66. In 18 total games, Wallner walked 9 times and struck out 27 times, batting primarily in the middle of the Scorpions lineup. Despite his 2021 season being limited to 66 games with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, I’d fully expect Wallner to begin the 2022 season in the middle of the Wichita Wind Surge’s lineup.

Zach Featherstone: 1 appearance, 1 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 0 K; 8.10 ERA, 2.20 WHIP, 12 K, 9 BB, 10 IP overall.

Featherstone made his lone appearance on the week in Friday’s walk off loss to Mesa, being tabbed as the first relief pitcher summoned to start the third inning. With the game still scoreless, he delivered a one-two-three inning, getting a groundout and a pair of fly outs on just 12 pitches (7 for strikes).

The left-hander made appearances in 11 of the Scorpions 30 games on the season, totaling 10 innings pitched with a 12-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He allowed 9 earned runs on 13 hits and finished with a 2.20 WHIP, 8.10 ERA, and .310 batting average against. Featherstone spent all of the 2021 season in Cedar Rapids’ bullpen, amassing 107 K’s in 73 1/3 innings pitched that was good for a 2.13 ERA, but as was apparent in the AFL needs to continue working on limiting free passes. I’d expect him to be with Wichita to begin the 2022 season.

Andrew Bechtold: 2 games, 2-for-3, R, RBI, BB, 0 K; .237/.333/.305 (.638 OPS) overall.

Bechtold saw action in two of the Scorpions three games on the week, getting the start at first base in one while entering as a pinch hitter and designated hitter in the other.

His first game of the week came in Wednesday’s 4-3 win over the Salt River Rafters, where he came on as a pinch hitter for the leadoff man in the fifth inning and got a rally started by drawing a one-out walk. After an error he was on third base and scored their second run of the game on a single two batters later. Before the inning was over the Scorpions would tie the game at three. In the bottom of the sixth Bechtold delivered the most important at-bat of the game for Scottsdale, with a sacrifice fly into right field that scored the go-ahead and winning run.

While Bechtold did not have a home run in AFL play, he did collect four doubles in 16 games after hitting 18 home runs and 23 doubles with the Wind Surge in 99 games. Depending on offseason roster moves Bechtold could be back in double-A, but with further improvement in his average and on-base percentage should see time with the St. Paul Saints in 2022.

Kody Funderburk: Did not pitch; 6.11 ERA, 1.75 WHIP, 22 K, 6 BB, 17 2/3 IP overall.

With just three games on the week Funderburk’s spot in the rotation did not come up to close out the AFL season, but he finished his time there very strong with wins in his final three starts.

Those three wins led the Scorpions pitching staff and was also the second most among all AFL pitchers. His 17 2/3 IP also ranked third on the roster, while his 22 strikeouts ranked second on the team and seventh in the league. His final ERA, WHIP, and BAA numbers are skewed by his first few starts where he gave up some runs in bunches, but the 22-to-6 K-to-BB ratio is a good stat to hang his hat on, as was his excellent finish.

Funderburk pitched at two levels during the 2021 season, starting ten games with Cedar Rapids before finishing with seven appearances out of the bullpen with Wichita. I’d expect him to be back in double-A to begin the 2022 season as part of the Wind Surge’s starting rotation, looking to build on his limited innings in 2021.

Michael Helman: 2 games, 0-for-4, BB, 0 K, SB; .216/.355/.255 (.610 OPS) overall.

Like Bechtold, Helman saw playing time in two of three games on the week, with one of those appearances coming as a pinch hitter part of the way through.

In Tuesday’s loss at Surprise, Helman entered the game as a pinch hitter for the DH in the seventh inning with runners on first and third after Wallner delivered a single. His ground ball toward second base turned into an error and allowed a run to score, closing the gap on the scoreboard to four runs. After Wallner’s home run in the ninth, Helman grounded out to short for the first out as their comeback attempt came up short.

In Wednesday’s win over Salt River Helman batted ninth in the lineup and played center field. He popped out in the second inning, grounded out to short to leadoff the fifth, then drew the second of two consecutive walks in the sixth inning that loaded the bases with one out. Bechtold followed him with his sac fly that gave the Scorpions the lead and with second base open, he stole his seventh base of the AFL season.

Those seven steals led the Scottsdale roster and was good for fourth in the league. He was not caught stealing once during the season, and had three games where he stole two bases. In 16 games in the AFL, Helman scored 10 runs and played all around the diamond, including plenty of run in center field as he continued to expand his positional versatility. He spent all of 2021 with Cedar Rapids, and should move up to Wichita in 2022. Like Bechtold, he didn’t hit a home run during AFL play, but was among organizational leaders with 19 during the regular season.

Cody Laweryson: 1 appearance, 1 IP, H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K; 3.86 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 18 K, 7 BB, 14 IP overall.

After pitching in the Fall Stars Game during week five, Laweryson finished his AFL season with a lone appearance in Wednesday’s 4-3 win over Salt River. With his team down 3-1 going into the fifth, he came on as the second relief pitcher to start the inning. He allowed a one-out single but retired the other three hitters he faced, including ending the inning with a swinging strikeout after a good battle with MLB.com’s #45 overall prospect, Brett Baty of the New York Mets.

Laweryson pitched in eight games with the Scorpions, including one start, and for the most part was asked to go multiple innings as he finished with 14 total innings. He held opposing hitters to a .189 batting average against, allowing 10 hits and 7 walks, while striking out 18 hitters. That K total ranked fourth on the Scorpions pitching staff.

After missing the first few months of the 2021 season, the right-hander started fourteen games with Cedar Rapids but totaled just 58 2/3 innings. It’s possible he begins the 2022 season in double-A, but also would not surprise me to see him back with the Kernels looking to lengthen his outings as a starter.

Evan Sisk: 1 appearance, 2 1/3 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 K; 7.59 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 14 K, 9 BB, 10 2/3 IP overall.

Like his other relief pitching teammates, Sisk made just one appearance in the season’s final week, getting the ball in Tuesday’s 9-7 loss to the Surprise Saguaros.

With the score 8-4 heading into the bottom of the sixth, Sisk was summoned to start the inning as the third reliever of the game for Scottsdale. He bookended a strikeout with a pair of walks, before a balk then moved both runners into scoring position. A single to the next hitter scored one before a mound visit got him back on track. He picked up a strikeout and a groundout to end the inning without any further damage, but did put an end to his scoreless inning streak at 6 total innings pitched.

Like Funderburk, Sisk had a bit of a rough start to his time in the AFL, but finished strong. After allowing eight earned runs total in his first five appearances, he allowed just one over his final five to end the season. Over those final five games, Sisk allowed just two hits, walked three, and struck out nine in 6 2/3 innings. As he’s new to the Twins organization, I’d expect him to begin the 2022 season back in the bullpen in double-A looking to improve upon his control, much like Featherstone.

Thanks for following the 2021 AFL season along with me, and please feel free to ask questions about the AFL and the players who were there!

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Interesting, thanks Steve.  And thanks to you and TD for keeping us up to date on this year’s AFL.

Wallner seems to be the one to benefit from this experience the most.  With so many of the corner power guys disappointing of late, I have a tough time getting excited.  Maybe this is his beginning to separate himself from those other disappointments.

The other player to be noticed by me was Laweryson.  The extra work gave him another opportunity to shine, and he ran with it.

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Thank you for the report, and every report previous. 

This was not an outstanding group the Twins sent to the AFL this year. I think that was, honestly, they just didn't want to tax some arms that were limited due to injures,  AND, they just wanted a look-see at some guys with potential and question marks. I'm OK with that.

Final review/opinion:

Wallner will be at AA and a fixture and reminds me of Larnach. His eye might be not as good as Larnach at this point, but I think he's got a real future as long as his defense is OK and he doesn't turn in to a K machine. I'm encouraged by his AFL OB%.

Featherstone and Funderburk are similar, so I include both here. The results weren't the same in the AFL, but they both continued to SO batters, and show areas of needed improvement. The difference is final results in a SSS. Both seem destined for AA Wichita. Both may end up in the pen, which is fine, but Funderburk seems to at least warranted a shot in the rotation for now. It's OK for ANY pitcher to transition to the pen and find a home there and excel. But it's OK to also keep someone in the rotation as long as possible to see what happens. SSS in the AFL, Funderbburk is in the rotation for 2022 and Featherstone moves to the pen. Both need to work on control. The good news is both are a couple LH arms  who could have a quality future in the pen a couple years from now. That doesn't suck. Sisk, just being honest, was a throw-in. Nice to see him and Funderburk finish strong. If ONE of them continues to improve and become a quality pen piece, GREAT!

Thought Bechtold might be a steal at 3B when drafted. He's done little since until the power suddenly developed in 2021. Now he's trying to use his arm to play catcher. IF his bat and defense can maintain and he can learn to be at least a decent catcher, he has a shot. But he's Hamilton with more potential power. He's got 2022 to prove he's worth keeping around.

Helman is the AFL guy I was really interested in. He's an athlete with speed, versatility, and budding power. My hope was he would build on a solid 2021 to become a solid future option. And maybe his play was better than his numbers, but I was disappointed in what he did. Hopefully he takes a step forward in 2022 with Witchita and establishes himself as a late bloomer super utility player who has some future.

Pleased with what Laweryson did. Repeat what I said before that he might be the 2022 version of Gibson-long and Gross. A guy who isn't a top pick who has something to work with and some projectability who is ready to take another step.

Short story? Wallner has real potential. I think Laweryson has a real shot. Featherstone, Funderburk, Sisk, prove it at AA Wichita. Bechtold and Helman are about out of chances, IMO. They get ST and maybe half a season to prove they have a shot before being passed over.




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9 hours ago, DocBauer said:

Short story? Wallner has real potential. I think Laweryson has a real shot. Featherstone, Funderburk, Sisk, prove it at AA Wichita. Bechtold and Helman are about out of chances, IMO. They get ST and maybe half a season to prove they have a shot before being passed over.

Yep. Still small samples on all the pitchers, but all of them were sent down to the AFL with a "show us something" mandate, and Laweryson was the only one who really stepped up. The rest still have some work to do.

I'm still nervous about Wallner's K rate because if he's racking up this many against lower competition then I'm nervous about his ability to eventually translate that power to MLB. (see also, Rooker, Brent) But he did a nice job in the AFL and deserves his top 20 prospect status. Looking forward to seeing how he does in AA

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