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  • Twins Daily 2022 Minor League Hitter of the Year: Matt Wallner

    Cody Christie

    Matt Wallner smashed his way through the upper minors on the way to making his big league debut. Here's why Wallner was the unanimous choice for Twins Daily Minor League Hitter of the Year.

    Image courtesy of Rob Thompson, St. Paul Saints (graphics by Thieres Rabelo)

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    Last season, Jose Miranda compiled one of the best minor league seasons in Twins' history. He was named the Twins Daily 2021 Minor League Hitter of the Year, and fans have seen how he has translated that into a successful rookie campaign. For the second consecutive season, there was a clear choice for the organization's Minor League Hitter of the Year, with Matt Wallner cementing himself into the team's long-term plans. 

    Wallner grew up in Forest Lake, MN, and was impressive as a high school slugger. Minnesota took him in the 32nd round of the 2016 MLB Draft (as a pitcher), but Wallner was committed to playing at the University of Southern Mississippi. He became a three-year starter at the school while averaging over 19 home runs per season with a 1.113 OPS. He helped his draft stock significantly, and the Twins took him with the 39th overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, this time as a three-time All-American outfielder. 

    Wallner showed some power in the lower minors as his OPS was .810 or higher in 2019 and 2021. For the most part, he was slightly older than the average age of the competition at each level, so it would have been nice to see him post even better offensive numbers. He missed over two months of the 2021 season with a broken hamate bone, so the Twins decided to find him some extra at-bats after the minor league season concluded. His performance in the 2021 Arizona Fall League might have been what pushed him to a tremendous 2022 campaign. In 18 games, he went 20-for-66 (.303 BA) with two doubles and six home runs, which resulted in a 1.011 OPS. 

    Minnesota sent Wallner to Double-A to start the 2022 campaign, where he was younger than the average age of the competition at his level for the first time since 2019. His season started slowly as he posted a .200 BA and a .741 OPS in April. His bat started to heat up in May when he hit seven doubles and six homers in 24 games (.984 OPS). However, the month of June is where he solidified his prospect status. 

    As the calendar flipped to June, Pitchers couldn't find a way to retire Wallner. He got on base in 50% of his plate appearances for the month. In 27 games that month, he only failed to reach base in three contests. He had two multi-homer games and seven games where he walked twice or more. Wallner ended the month hitting .345/.500/.714 (1.214) with five doubles, one triple, and eight home runs.  

    July saw Wallner's bat cool off a bit, but the month also saw some other impressive feats. He represented the Twins at the 2022 Futures Game in Los Angeles and hit a two-run homer in a tie game. Minnesota also promoted him to Triple-A, where he was four years younger than the average age of the competition. After adjusting to St. Paul, Wallner posted a .978 OPS with 17 doubles, three triples, and six home runs in 39 games from August 2- September 15. 

    With the big-league club struggling, there was some question about why the team wasn't promoting Wallner for the team's playoff push. He quickly made his mark with the Twins as his first big-league hit was a home run with his family in attendance. It was a perfect way to cap a tremendous 2022 season, and there is little doubt that Wallner's powerful bat will be part of the Twins line-up for most of the next decade. 

    Runner-Up: Edouard Julien, IF
    AA Stats (113 G): .300/.441/.490 (.931), 19 2B, 3 3B, 17 HR, 67 RBI 
    Like Wallner, Julien was drafted out of college in 2019 but was taken in the 18th round. In his first two professional seasons, he has combined for a .922 OPS while moving from Low-A to Double-A. He was a staple in the Wind Surge line-up this season and faced older pitchers in over 87% of his plate appearances. Defensively, Minnesota had him focus on second base in 2022, so that's his most likely path to the big leagues.  

    Second Runner-Up: Chris Williams, 1B/C
    AA/AAA Stats (109 G): .255/.352/.528 (.880), 21 2B, 1 3B, 28 HR, 88 RBI

    Williams posted impressive power numbers, including double-digit home runs at Double- and Triple-A. Minnesota took him in the 8th round of the 2018 MLB Draft from Clemson. The 2022 season was the first where most of his plate appearances came as a first baseman instead of a catcher. This may have helped his power numbers increase, as he could keep his legs stronger throughout the season. 

    Honorable Mention: Noah Cardenas, C/1B
    Low-A Stats (99 G): .261/.421/.413 (.834), 18 2B, 1 3B, 9 HR, 43 RBI

    Minnesota took Cardenas with their 8th-round pick in 2021 from UCLA. He impressed in his first full professional season as he caught over 460 innings and played time at first base. Cardenas led the team in many offensive categories. His prospect stock will continue to rise if he can hit for power while continuing to catch. 

    What impressed you the most about the names mentioned above? Should a different player have made the list? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. 

    2012 - Oswaldo Arcia
    2013 - Miguel Sano
    2014 - Mitch Garver
    2015 - Max Kepler
    2016 - Daniel Palka
    2017 - Mitch Garver
    2018 - Alex Kirilloff
    2019 - Trevor Larnach
    2021 - Jose Miranda



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    "His prospect stock will continue to rise if he can hit for power while continuing to catch. "

    Cardenas - If he is great defensively, his stock will skyrocket. If he isn't very good defensively, not so much. I think he's at least okay on defense but I'm just guessing because he plays a higher % at catcher than others like Isola and Williams.

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    My main takeaway is Julien's .441 OBP over 113 games played. After seeing all the wasted ABs with RISP at the MLB level a guy with a plan would be welcome. Add his 17hrs to the mix and he looks intriguing. Curious to see what his next year looks like.

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    I had my doubts when it came to Wallner, lots of doubts but I think this years amazing season has put them to rest.  The power was always there but the massive swing and miss was troubling early on.  Kepler has to be looking over his shoulder as Wallner's bat could be a difference maker in right field.  Anyway Congrats to Wallner on a great season and for putting doubter's like me in their place.

    I really do like Juliens game better than Wallner and he has been amazing since he started pro ball.  Essentially not much change in the number no matter the level.  I like a guy who can make a pitcher work and he still has power to hit the ball out of the park.  He also is savvy on the bases being able to steal bases. Julien is a very complete offensive player now if he could elevate his defense that would really help.

    Williams was on fire this year but I guess I still don't know if this is a one year wonder thing or not.

    I think the Twins might have something in Cardenes.  I think the bat is for real. The FSL is a tough league for a hitters OPS and he has held his own in that tough environment all year.  I would not be surprised to see him move two levels next year if his bat continues to play. I thought he was a more defensive first catcher out of college so I assume he is still solid behind the plate but I can't say for sure.

    Their are good number of solid bats in the system now if they can find more pitching talent that would really help.

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    "there is little doubt that Wallner's powerful bat will be part of the Twins line-up for most of the next decade"

    I think you're a little ahead of your skis here. Only around 30 hitters in the history of the team made it a decade with the team. You're essentially predicting he'll be a Twins Hall of Famer based on a nice September debut.

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    Wallner looks legit. That would be huge for this team, imo. 

    Juliene can clearly hit, let's hope they find a no position for him. 

    I have no idea on the other two, but if they can catch even in a backup role, that would be great. 

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    3 hours ago, Blyleven2011 said:

    Congratulations to Wallner  for minor leagues hitter of the year ...

    If STEER or CES  hadn't been traded I don't think it would have been unanimous  ....

    100% true... I had them ranked 3 and 4 even with the trades... Would have been much more difficult. 

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