What About Wallner?

Photo Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

Fans love a local player. And looking at the Minnesota Twins’ draft history, so do they.

From Kent Hrbek to Joe Mauer to Glen Perkins to Caleb Thielbar and Louie Varland – countless Minnesotans got the pleasure to play for their home state. The newest member of that clan is Forest Lake’s Matt Wallner. The Twins loved the hulking outfielder so much that they drafted him twice: once after his senior season when he was named Mr. Baseball Minnesota in 2016 and again after his historic junior season at the University of Southern Mississippi.

First, they loved his upside as a pitcher with a big fastball. But after Wallner claimed the throne as Southern Miss’ all-time home run king, the Twins saw a powerful outfielder with a cannon for an arm.

While Wallner has impressed since starting his professional career in 2019, he finds himself on the outside looking in on the 2023 big-league roster. The Twins currently have a handful of lefty outfielders who rank ahead of him on the depth chart. Veterans like Joey Gallo and Max Kepler are penciled in as starters. Nick Gordon is a versatile bench option, and former first-round picks Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach are bound to get ample opportunities.

So that begs the question – what about Wallner?

There isn’t much more for him to prove in the minors, but he’s stuck waiting in line behind the aforementioned fellow lefties.

Wallner’s ceiling is still sky-high. He secured the Twins’ Minor League Hitter of the Year in 2022 after slashing a prodigious .277/.412/.541 across the top two levels of the minor leagues. In fact, his profile is reminiscent of the newly-signed Gallo, who is a two-time All-Star. Here’s what had to say in their organizational prospect rankings, where they had Wallner pegged as the fifth-best prospect in Minnesota’s system.

He has as much raw pop as anyone in the system, and despite some swing issues, he’s shown he can get to it. If he can continue to shrink the zone in order to increase the damage he can do when he puts the ball in play, he does have a Joey Gallo-esque offensive ceiling.

That’s an intriguing comparison, especially given that the Twins signed Gallo for only one year. Wallner could find himself as the heir apparent when the incumbent slugger leaves, whether in the following off-season or at the trade deadline.

Speaking of trades, perhaps one or more of the fellow lefty-hitters ahead of him in the pecking order could find themselves on the block. Kepler’s name, in particular, has been mentioned repeatedly in recent months, thanks to his stellar defense and affordable $8.5 million salary. Gordon is also a dark horse trade candidate for teams looking for a super-utility player who can play all three outfield positions and spot starts in the infield.

Who knows? Wallner could even find himself on the trade block in the right package. There’s certainly value in a player of his ilk, especially for a rebuilding club with holes in their outfield. Wallner needs an opportunity to show he can hit against major league-caliber pitching and iron out his defensive shortcomings. A retooling team could offer him that chance.

His challenges in the field are notable, given the collection of corner outfielders on the roster. Despite his incredible arm, the evaluators made that abundantly clear when giving his field tool a 45 rating on the 20-80 scouting scale. “Wallner has a plus arm that fired mid-90s fastballs as a reliever in college that works well in right field,” they said, “though he’s a fringy, at best, defender.”

Wallner as a centerpiece probably wouldn’t cut it if the Twins are trying to make a blockbuster trade. But if he’s a secondary piece who gets attached to a headliner, he could be an interesting asset.

There are a lot of different routes that the Twins can take with Wallner as they enter the 2023 season. Whether he starts in Triple-A and is a call-up in the likely event of injury, or is the heir to Gallo’s role on the roster, or he’s a secondary trade piece, his emergence will affect the big-league club this year. The Twins just have to figure out what to do with him.

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