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.
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