A long drive to right at Dodger Stadium provided fans with a glimpse of Matt Wallner’s difference-making power.
The Twins’ seventh-ranked prospect bashed a two-run homer off Giants lefty Kyle Harrison in last month's Futures Game that helped the American League squad to a 6-4 victory. Wallner’s blast wasn’t out of the ordinary for his profile. By the time he made it to All-Star weekend, he had already gone deep 21 times for Double-A Wichita and earned a promotion to St. Paul.
Wallner, who was the No. 39 overall selection in the 2019 Draft out of the University of Southern Mississippi, made a name for himself as a powerful corner outfielder in college and set the Golden Eagles’ single-season home run record with 23 long balls in his final season.
The power has not dissipated in the professional ranks. He homered 15 times for High-A Cedar Rapids before a broken hamate bone limited his 2021 campaign, and he had the second-most homers in the Texas League before his promotion on July 14.
The 24-year-old right fielder has drawn comparisons to a young Joey Gallo. His strikeout rate (nearly 32 percent) has improved from last season, though still a bit high. But he’s drawing walks at a higher rate (17.4 percent). Even with the potentially elite power, the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder’s loudest tool is probably his arm strength.
In the latest Prospect Q&A, the Forest Lake, Minnesota, native recalls his memories of being drafted by his hometown team as well as his debut in St. Paul. Wallner also discusses his simple approach to hitting and his goals for the stretch run of the season.
MiLB.com: We're a little more than half way through the season, and you've played your way to Triple-A. What was working for you in the first half?
Matt Wallner: Just trying to be a little more patient helped me a lot. I've tried to get better pitches and take advantage. Drawing more walks as well. But just being more selective was I think the big difference.
MiLB.com: The walk numbers are up but the strikeout numbers are also up. Are there times you feel you might be getting a little too selective?
Wallner: I mean, sometimes. I feel like, I don't know if it's necessarily always gonna be that high. But I think swing and miss is definitely part of my game. Some of it was just trying to get some more power. So if I'm trying to hit homers, strikeouts I think are just gonna happen.
MiLB.com: What's been the secret to finding your swing and power stroke the last couple years?
Wallner: I think just finding that consistent swing. Not trying to overdo it. Swinging more of a BP swing. I have the strength to get it out anywhere. So just not trying to do too much.
MiLB.com: How'd you find out about the promotion to Triple-A?
Wallner: I just found out after a game on Wednesday, I believe it was a day game. We were in Wichita and the manager came and told me and the people in locker room. So, that was pretty exciting -- nothing crazy.
MiLB.com: Then the Futures Game, you go there and homer off a really good pitcher. What was that experience like?
Wallner: That was a cool experience playing at Dodger Stadium, being around some of those guys who are gonna have really good careers, it was a lot of fun. Obviously, hitting a homer just makes it even better.
MiLB.com: Anything you got to experience or somebody you met that you were looking forward to?
Wallner: Just being in the dugout around Ken Griffey Jr. and Jimmy Rollins and Adrian Beltre. That was pretty surreal to look left and see them standing there.
MiLB.com: You're Minnesota born and raised, correct?
Wallner: Yep, I went to high school here, grew up here.
MiLB.com: What was that like getting drafted by the hometown team?
Wallner: Pretty exciting. It's definitely my favorite team growing up, so it's kind of a mini dream come true, no doubt.
MiLB.com: Any memories from Draft night that stick out?
Wallner: I was at school down in Southern Miss after the regional. And so we just had my family and some of my teammates over at our college house. We watched it on MLB Network.
MiLB.com: What was the reception like for the first game in St. Paul? Are you looking forward to playing in front of the home crowd a little more?
Wallner: Yeah, absolutely. It was definitely a cool moment. My parents will be able to come a bunch. And just other friends and family who have followed me up. So that's exciting for me getting to see more people who wouldn't otherwise be able to come to games.
MiLB.com: Now that things have sort of settled down, what's it like for you to reestablish your routine?
Wallner: Yeah, that's big. I've been looking forward to kind of cementing it down here this week and getting back to doing what I was doing before the All-Star break. A routine has been a big part of my year, I think. I'm able to kind of replicate that up here. I'm looking forward to what should come.
MiLB.com: Let's get back to your simplistic approach at the plate, trying to do less and be more selective. In your estimation, how could you tell when everything's clicking, besides the results of course.
Wallner: I think just when like, my swing feels loose and free and easy, is kind of when I know it's going well. It's not forced. Then I'll go into the game feeling good about it and hit the right pitches, not be jumpy and whatnot. I think, just being loose and easy is the big thing.
MiLB.com: You mentioned that the loose fluid swing, guys sometimes refer to themselves as a 'feel' hitter? Is that something you might classify yourself as?
Wallner: Maybe, I just don't really know, the true definition of that.
MiLB.com: I would guess that, it's when you're not too worried about being mechanically sound, if that makes sense?
Wallner: Right. Yeah, I think that's fair. I think just trying to get to a swing where I don't have to think about it before the game, and especially during the game. So, a combination of both trial and error in the past and new things are coming out.
MiLB.com: What are you focusing on the most in the second half? Is there something that you feel is going to have a point of emphasis for you?
Wallner: Trying to kind of continue when I started on the first half, but I think the glaring thing for me is strikeouts. So if I can even take five percent off of that or whatever in the second half, I think that'd be a huge, huge thing for me.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.