HOUSTON -- As the MLB Draft drew closer to an end on Tuesday and his son’s phone had stopped ringing, former Astros closer Billy Wagner jumped on his lawnmower in rural Virginia to alleviate some stress. Then came the phone call from his wife, Sarah, who delivered the news that made a gut-wrenching two days all worthwhile.
The Astros, the team that drafted Billy Wagner in the first round in 1993 out of Ferrum College and watched him blossom into one of the elite closers of his generation, had selected his son, Liberty University infielder Will Wagner, with their selection in the 18th round.
“At this point, you’re not worried about where and who, and you’re just wanting him to go,” Billy Wagner told MLB.com. “He’s ecstatic, to stay the least. He and his mom were in tears. It’s just a great opportunity. The opportunity to go play at the next level, at a high level and get an opportunity, that’s all you can ask for. I know he’s excited.”
Will Wagner, a 21-year-old left-handed-hitting infielder, was taken with the 538th pick, which was 526 picks lower than where Billy went in the 1993 Draft -- No. 12 overall to the Astros.
“It’s really special. It’s an honor, too,” Will Wagner said. “I grew up my first three years there when my dad was playing for the Astros, so it’s pretty cool to go back there, to the same team.”
A hard-throwing lefty, Billy Wagner produced a 16-year Major League career in which he made seven All-Star teams and saved 422 games, including a club-record 225 for the Astros from 1995-03. Will was born in the summer of 1998, a year before his dad made his first All-Star Game. Will was 5 years old when his dad was traded to the Phillies.
“He’s his own person and I know he’s proud of what I've done and stuff, but it’s never been about me,” Billy Wagner said. “None of his opportunities have come because of me. I’ve never been the dad to give him the opportunities. He’s had to fight for everything. He only had one opportunity to get to college and had to fight for that. He’s been a late bloomer. I think the Astros got a sleeper. They got a sneaky pick and they’re going to be surprised. A lot of teams that didn’t take him, they’ll see what [they] missed.”
As a senior this year, Will Wagner slashed .333/.417/.538 with seven homers and 52 RBIs in 43 games for Liberty, which was the only school to offer him a scholarship. He’s set to sign with the Astros and will begin his Minor League journey in the coming days.
“I told him whether he was first-rounder or last-rounder or free agent, you’re going to have to go into this playing with a chip on your shoulder anyway,” Billy said. “He’s been doing it his whole life and he’s much better for it than I would have been. I think he’s going to be a grunt. He can hit for average, he does have power, he has gap power. He made one error all last year. He’s good defensively. Pro ball is a different animal, and I know that he will attack that and learn and grow if given the opportunity.”
As far as being the son of Billy Wagner, Will doesn’t shy away from it. But he’s ready to blaze his own trail to Houston.
“There’s always going to be times when you come up to the plate and the announcer is going to say, ‘Billy Wagner’s kid steps up to the plate,’ and they don’t really say your name much,” he said. “There’s no pressure being his kid. I grew up watching him be a big league player, and he’s shown me the right way to play the game and it’s been an honor. I felt like I haven’t been in the shadows. I made a name for myself.”
The Astros haven’t been shy about drafting from their lineage in the past.
The took C.J. Correa, the brother of starting shortstop Carlos Correa, in the 33rd round out of Alvin Community College in 2018 and again in the 38th round out of Lamar University in '19, and they wound up signing him. They drafted Alex Bregman’s brother, A.J. Bregman, in the 35th round out of Albuquerque (N.M.) Academy in 2018 and Trei Cruz, the grandson of Astros legend Jose Cruz, in the 35th round in 2017.
In 2015, the Astros drafted the sons of Craig Biggio (Conor Biggio in Round 34 out of Notre Dame) and Roger Clemens (Kody Clemens of Houston Memorial High School in the 35th round). They also drafted Clemens’ sons Kacy (in the 35th round out of Memorial in 2013) and Koby Clemens (eighth round in 2005). Koby signed with Houston.