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  • Prospect Retrospective: Matt Wallner


    Cody Christie

    Matt Wallner is having one of the best seasons in the Twins farm system. Now firmly entrenched in the team’s long-term plans, he is getting his first chance at the big leagues.

    Image courtesy of Rob Thompson, St. Paul Saints

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    The Twins went in two different routes for their first two picks in the 2019 MLB Draft. With the 13th overall pick, the club selected Keoni Cavaco, a high school shortstop that saw his stock rise significantly leading into the draft. Later in the first round, Minnesota selected Matt Wallner, a strong bat with plenty of college experience. 

    Minnesota had originally drafted Wallner in 2016 as a pitcher, but he stayed true to his college commitment at the University of North Dakota. Unfortunately, he learned the UND was eliminating its baseball program. Fortunately, he found his way to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. This decision helped his development as he was a three-year starter at the University of Southern Mississippi. In each college season, he posted an OPS of 1.093 or higher, and he set the school’s career home run mark when he hit 23 homers as a junior. His arm was so good in college that the team used him as a reliever with a fastball in the mid-90s. The Twins followed his progress in college and took him in the Competitive Balance Round in 2019.

    After signing, the Twins sent Wallner to the Appalachian League. In 53 games, he hit .269/.361/.452 (.813) with 18 doubles, one triple, and six home runs. Minnesota promoted him to Low-A for 12 games to end the year, and he compiled six extra-base hits in limited action. As a power hitter, his swing and miss tendency was evident as he struck out 80 times in 65 games. Twins Daily named him the 2019 Short Season Hitter of the Year after his powerful professional debut. 

    Coming out of the COVID season, Minnesota sent Wallner to High-A, a level he had yet to experience. He was limited to 66 games with Cedar Rapids because he broke his hamate bone. Even in limited action, his power was evident as he hit .264/.350/.508 (.858) with 14 doubles, two triples, and 15 home runs. To compensate for lost time, the Twins decided to send Wallner to the Arizona Fall League following the 2021 season. 

    The AFL is an excellent showcase for some of baseball’s top prospects, but it’s a small sample size of games. That being said, Wallner made the most of his time in Arizona. In nearly 80 plate appearances, he hit .303/.405/.606 (1.011) with two doubles and six home runs. He struck out in 42% of his at-bats, but he still got on base over 40% of the time. Wallner had set himself up for a breakout 2022 campaign. 

    Wallner began the year at Double-A Wichita, where he continued his hot hitting from the fall. In 78 games, he hit .299/.436/.597 (1.033) with 15 doubles, a triple, and 21 home runs. He was selected for the 2022 Futures Game, where he hit a home run on the national stage. Shortly after returning from Los Angeles, the Twins promoted him to St. Paul. Initially, he struggled, but he posted a .907 OPS in August and a 1.043 OPS in September. It was clear that Wallner was ready for his first taste of the big leagues. 

    For the Twins, Wallner has helped his prospect stock significantly this year. His ceiling compares very similarly to Joey Gallo, a powerful slugger with high strikeout rates. Wallner’s strong arm will play well in right field even if he can’t get to every ball because of his size. He has one of the most powerful bats to come through the Twins system in quite some time. If he can cut down on strikeouts, he may become an even more dangerous hitter at baseball’s highest level.

    Do you think Wallner can reach his ceiling? What impresses you the most about his minor league career? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

     

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    So far he's been hitting since being called up. Small sample size, obviously.

    He's already ahead of both Kirilloff and Larnach on the depth chart in my book. And yes, that says more about how I feel about the latter names.

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    It's too bad that it takes injuries to get the Twins to try some of their young players that rake in the minors. Maybe if they weren't so cautious with some of their prospects and quit playing the veterans that don't produce they'd be a better team. Not saying that all of them will perform once they get to the big league club, but if it weren't for injuries players like Wallner and even Miranda wouldn't be playing. First option for the two positions they are playing were Kepler and Sano and neither one can hit the broad side of a barn anymore but if they were healthy they'd be the first choice to be playing. Insanity!

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    Do you think he can reach his ceiling ???

    I hope so but I'll have a better answer after a 3 year evaluation  or maybe less ...

    Remember rooker and the types , sano took half a season to hit his ceiling every year more or less ...

    The ball does jump off the bat when he barrels it up so I hope he is better than Gallo  , the arm is amazingly strong ... 

    great he Is getting the opportunity because of injuries and hope he finishes the season strong  , he has to work on his defense cause we have been spoiled by kepler's defense ...

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    The development of Wallner gives the Twins 3 good, young LH hitters (with Kirilloff and Larnach).  I still think Kirilloff can and will be the best of them and his ability to play a smooth 1B probably makes him the most valuable...if healthy !

    With this surplus, the Twins could certainly reach out to a team like the Marlins to dangle a young bat for some MLB ready pitching (Like Pablo Lopez).  The Marlins also have some talented pitchers trying to overcome some injuries like Max Meyer and Sixto Sanchez who the Twins could be interested in.

    Miami needs hitting and has a surplus of pitching.  There is no doubt Miami will be looking to trade from their surplus.  it will be interesting to see if the Twins are part of their discussions.  

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    First, I'm really glad he got a call up to the big;s this year so he can get a taste of top level pitching. I've followed him throughout his minor league career and noticed that each time they promote him to the next level he struggles a little but not for too long. He seems to figure things  out really fast. I won't say he's fast but I will say he is not slow. He will be no liability on the base paths and has a number of triples in the minor leagues. He sure got down to first base fast last night.

    We need more power bats in the outfield. I'm excited to see Wallner and Laurnach in the outfield together much of next year. Krilloff and Miranda at the infield corners.  

    But the real question is what to do with Kepler. He's a better right fielder than almost any right fielder in the league with a great arm. I might give the nod to Wallner in throwing however. We'll have to wait and see. My suggestion is to turn Kepler into a utility player like Gordon. Gordon covers left, enter, SS and second base while Kepler covers Right field, center and first base. I say first base because we won't know if Krlloff will be ready and/or can he stay healthy. This allows us to drop one of the many average outfielders we have been brining up late this year.

    I would have said, should we trade Kep but after thinking about his versatility, and his value defensively I turned to his hitting. I think the clincher for me not to trade Kep is the fact he batting average should rise when they outlaw the shift next year.

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    Happy for him and I believe he will show in the next few weeks that he is ready to be counted on for next year.

    If Larnach and Kirlloff are healthy next year I would look to trade Max.  I love his OF work but not at the expense of his hitting which I no longer believe will improve even with the shift changes.

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    6 hours ago, Cody Christie said:

    Do you think Wallner can reach his ceiling? What impresses you the most about his minor league career? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

    22 errors in 3 years in the Minors; put him in Triple A next year so he can learn BASIC BASEBALL SKILLS, some thing many here say the Twins rookies are lacking.

    We lost two games to Cleveland due to fielding errors, we do not need bats as much as fielders who are not incompetent.

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    Wallner's draw back is his defense & SOs. He's well suited for RF with his cannon of an arm and where  his defense matters less. I don't think it's a good idea to keep Kepler as a 4th OF, I'd rather use use him as trade bait for a high end SP. Hopefully Wallner can cut down on his SOs. I'd still not place him above Larnach or Kiriloff.

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    Wallner appears to be MUCH faster than scouted. We're talking 65+ speed in the super small sample size. Sprint speed 28.6 ft/sec, making him the 3rd fastest runner on the Twins. Wallner's sprint speed is higher than Royce Lewis' 28.4 ft/sec.
    29.1 ft/sec Byron Buxton
    29.0 ft/sec Billy Hamilton
    28.6 ft/sec Matt Wallner... wtf????
    28.4 ft/sec Royce Lewis
    28.2 ft/sec Jorge Polanco
    28.2 ft/sec Jake Cave
    27.9 ft/sec Max Kepler
    27.9 ft/sec Gilberto Celestino
    27.9 ft/sec Mark Contreras
    27.9 ft/sec Jermaine Palacios
    27.8 ft/sec Nick Gordon
    27.6 ft/sec Alex Kirilloff
    27.0 ft/sec Carlos Correa
    27.0 ft/sec Trevor Larnach
    26.9 ft/sec Luis Arraez
    26.7 ft/sec Miguel Sano
    26.6 ft/sec Kyle Garlick
    26.3 ft/sec Jose Miranda
    25.9 ft/sec Ryan Jeffers
    25.8 ft/sec Gio Urshela
    25.1 ft/sec Gary Sanchez
    23.6 ft/sec Sandy Leon (ranked 561 of 567 players with 10 opportunities)

     

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    10 minutes ago, ashbury said:

    Wouldn't we all.  Any candidate teams in mind, who are looking to unload a pitching stud in return for an average-ish right fielder who isn't underpaid? :)

    I doubt they were suggesting a 1:`1 trade......

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    6 hours ago, rv78 said:

    It's too bad that it takes injuries to get the Twins to try some of their young players that rake in the minors. Maybe if they weren't so cautious with some of their prospects and quit playing the veterans that don't produce they'd be a better team. Not saying that all of them will perform once they get to the big league club, but if it weren't for injuries players like Wallner and even Miranda wouldn't be playing. First option for the two positions they are playing were Kepler and Sano and neither one can hit the broad side of a barn anymore but if they were healthy they'd be the first choice to be playing. Insanity!

    Who exactly have the Twins been cautious with lately?  They have used 15 players this season who are 25 or under.  

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    2 hours ago, RpR said:

    22 errors in 3 years in the Minors; put him in Triple A next year so he can learn BASIC BASEBALL SKILLS

    No matter how much coaching he gets, those errors at Elizabethton and Cedar Rapids are never going away.  He showed improvement in this stat at Wichita and St Paul this year.  If 22 errors is your metric for defense, he'll be 30 years old before that stigma gets wiped away from his totals.

    His range factor per nine innings looks a bit low to me, but runners at AAA were challenging his arm and getting thrown out often enough to almost offset that.  If his bat is legit I can live with slightly subpar defense at a corner.

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    31 minutes ago, ashbury said:

    Wouldn't we all.  Any candidate teams in mind, who are looking to unload a pitching stud in return for an average-ish right fielder who isn't underpaid? :)

    Of course any Kepler/ high end SP trade won't be 1 for 1.

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    4 hours ago, SwainZag said:

    Who exactly have the Twins been cautious with lately?  They have used 15 players this season who are 25 or under.  

    Any prospect that has played well in the minors that they don't promote verses using veterans who don't perform. The only reason why some of them are playing on the major league roster is due to injuries. IT'S NOT DUE TO PERFORMANCE! Did you even read my post?

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    8 minutes ago, rv78 said:

    Any prospect that has played well in the minors that they don't promote verses using veterans who don't perform. The only reason why some of them are playing on the major league roster is due to injuries. IT'S NOT DUE TO PERFORMANCE! Did you even read my post?

    So you are assuming anyone that has been called up this year was strictly because of injuries and no one was promoted on performance?  

    Any specific examples of players performing well being denied a shot?  I believe this was an issue with the old FO, but the current one has been pretty aggressive with promotions of deserving players. 

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    1 minute ago, SwainZag said:

    So you are assuming anyone that has been called up this year was strictly because of injuries and no one was promoted on performance?  

     

    Sounds about right, as it was rookies being injured that brought up rookies to take their place.

    The incompetent fielding by so many rookies is why they do not bring them up sooner, a good bat does not make up for fielding snafu.

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    37 minutes ago, SwainZag said:

    So you are assuming anyone that has been called up this year was strictly because of injuries and no one was promoted on performance?  

    Any specific examples of players performing well being denied a shot?  I believe this was an issue with the old FO, but the current one has been pretty aggressive with promotions of deserving players. 

    Not what I said. I said "some" of their young players. Miranda and now Wallner are both examples if you can't see clearly. Miranda did not make the team out of spring training even though he tore up AAA last season. Wallner would not be on the team if Kepler was not hurt. Guys like Sano and Kepler weren't performing and were only replaced because of injuries. Is Miranda more deserving to play than Sano? With his primary position being 3rd base, they had Donaldson blocking the way. Then they trade him away and refill it with Urshela. How is that committing to a deserving player and giving him a shot? Miranda is here and getting consistant at bats only because Sano is hurt. How about Wallner verses Kepler? It took way too long for them to bring him up while they lived with Keplers weak bat and hole in the middle of the lineup.

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    The complaints about prospects being held back in the minors might be valid for a losing/rebuilding team, but don't forget the Twins were a division leader flirting with the best record in the AL for part of the season. That's not the time for experimenting with and training rookies and having to deal with game-losing mistakes. The growth in Duran, Gordon, Ryan and Miranda this year speaks well to the Twins' approach. Injuries have derailed the progress of Kirilloff, Larnach, Lewis, Balazovic, and others.

    Back on subject - Wallner seems to be adept at adjusting to each level. It also appears he has improved on his K and BB rates as a hitter, and he looks and moves like a good athlete. His defense will need some work, but he's not a disaster out there. I'd look forward to seeing him pitch an inning in mop up duty sometime. A reasonable comp for him might be at least a lefty swinging Tom Brunansky with more pop. No reason he can't meet or exceed that. With 5 or 6 lefty swinging OFs on the roster, someone's going to be moved/dropped. I think Wallner is a keeper.

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    11 hours ago, Doctor Gast said:

    Of course any Kepler/ high end SP trade won't be 1 for 1.

    Trade Kepler for a bag of sand if that’s all you get. The salary savings will net us a great reliever or two possibly.

    The turnover coming is going to be huge: Sano, Max, Sanchez, Urshela, Archer, Bundy, and probably Correa - who am I missing? 
    Polanco might not even be safe (but I think he will be).  Think of the cash savings from this group that could be redeployed.

    Wallner is on the big club next year playing RF.  

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    I am not ready to crown Wallner the RF of the future.  He has looked good in his at bats thus far, he looks like a capable RFer.  Its september its a weeks worth of atbats, the strikeouts history is a serious consideration.  

    Remember when Chris Parmelee came up and had a red hot September after have a very productive year at AAA and we thought he was going to be the next great thing.  How did that pan out the following season/seasons?  

    Cant crown young guys king after a good september. 

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    Watching him makes me even more excited for next year. The Twins finally have developed depth beyond the major league roster to supplement that roster when needed. I can not remember the last time we could have at AAA at the start of year players like Wallner, Winder, Varland, Moran, Woods Richardson. I am sure I missed some and there will be others who won't make the major league roster. 

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