On the one hand, the Twins aren’t where they want to be at this point in the season in large part due to injuries. But if there’s a silver lining to any of those woes, it’s that the incredible rash of injuries has created opportunities for many youngsters -- and a pair of hometown kids has taken advantage. Let’s take a look at one of them.
Three of us stood in front of Matt Wallner’s locker with the rookie outfielder on Wednesday in the depths of Target Field when play-by-play announcer Dick Bremer quipped that Wallner had hit the longest popup to second base that he’d ever seen -- because that towering, sky-high ball that seemingly scraped the stratosphere just kept carrying, and carrying, and carrying, until it landed just beyond the massive right-field wall.
Seemingly nobody could believe that the ball, launched at a laughably high 45 degrees with a downright hilarious seven-second hang time, actually made it over the fence -- except for Wallner himself.
“I thought it was further,” Wallner said with a laugh. “I had visions of [Jim] Thome hitting that one off the flagpole. I was like, ‘It's not going to be that far, but something maybe at the flagpole?’”
Being from Forest Lake, the northern suburb of the Twin Cities, it’s safe to say that Wallner knows all too well the history of left-handed sluggers in his new home ballpark. And when it comes to where the 24-year-old might eventually fit into that echelon of home-run hitters, Wallner knows his power best -- and Twins Territory will soon come to grow accustomed to it, too.
Take that homer against the White Sox on Tuesday as an example. The 45 degree launch angle on that mammoth blast already marked the highest homer by a Twin ever tracked by Statcast, and the 113.8 mph exit velocity made it the second-hardest hit by a Twin this season. Talk about a big first impression.
“A ball that almost disappeared out of sight into the air and made you kink your neck looking up at it, that's what we're dealing with,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Matt Wallner can do some impressive things on the field. Some of the things he's already done make you go, 'Wow,' and you even see it on some of the passes that he takes where he's not hitting a home run. You just watch him swing and you know there's something real there.”
Expect to see more of those homers with a “wow” factor from the 6-foot-5, 220-pound slugger, whose prodigious power made him the No. 5 prospect in the organization at the time he was first called up to the big leagues on Sept. 17 after he tore up both Double-A (1.033 OPS) and Triple-A (.839 OPS) in a big ‘22. Check out the big arm from right field, too (he was also a pitcher in college at Southern Miss), one that should get more traction if he forces his way into the Twins’ everyday plans next year.
He’s already made a big first splash, recording nine RBIs in his first 12 career games -- tied for third in club history. And the weird part? He’s actually doing all of this while quite unhappy with his swing and doing a ton of tinkering to fix it.
“There just seems to be like two or three weeks throughout a year where I just miss pitches that I don't normally miss,” Wallner said. “I'm kind of in one of those right now. Just trying to make the best of it.”
“Yeah, it doesn't feel the best, honestly,” he added. “Just grinding a little bit. … It's just trying to force the feel of some things right now. So just a little bit more extra work on my end. But yeah, that's always encouraging when you're not at your best and still getting some results.”