Prospect can't wait to come back across river
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Matt Wallner said he has probably never spent less offseason time in Minnesota in his career. He spent the majority of those months in Mississippi. He’ll see plenty of Minnesota this year -- but he came in to camp with the sense that it would probably start in St. Paul, not Minneapolis.
He was correct. The Twins’ No. 7 prospect was optioned out of camp on Saturday. Even after Wallner got a taste of the Majors last September, the crowded roster situation pushed him down to the Triple-A club for further development. It was not a surprise, and he’s ready to work on his weaknesses.
“My odds are probably stacked against me, but [I’m] just going to go out and have the best camp and try to start this season, wherever I'm at, a little bit better than my previous years,” Wallner said last week, before he was optioned. “I seem to always get off to a slow start, so I'm trying to just feel my swing and have confidence going into the season, as in years past, I really have not been quite ready.”
He’s right. Wallner started last season 3-for-41 with Double-A Wichita before embarking on a season that carried him to the All-Star Futures Game and all the way to the Majors.
This spring, the slugging corner outfielder was 6-for-29 with one homer -- but it was an impressive shot that showcased his immense raw talent. He didn’t even get all of the pitch and muscled it for an opposite-field moonshot. As always, he’s just trying to access that power more often by making better contact.
“I think it's no secret that the pitch I struggle with is the fastball up,” Wallner said. “So I've been focused on a lot of the low-slot, ride fastball machine in the cage and just trying to be disciplined with that and not swinging at balls above the zone, even in the cage. I think that's helped me a lot.”
Wallner felt “close,” he said before he was optioned, but it has also been a path with continued adjustments along the way. He has backed off the plate a little bit more, trying not to chase too many pitches away. As he mentioned, he’s doing concerted work on the biggest hole in his swing-and-miss, too.
Wallner said his big league experience last season exposed him to the efficiency and purpose with which every player in that clubhouse prepares -- and that’s what he’ll take with him as he works to get back across the river.
"It's going to be his ability to show that he can have different kinds of at-bats when he needs to,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Not every at-bat is going to be a 109 mph rocket. … But there are situations, and many at-bats, where it calls for a change of some kind. It's going to be his ability to recognize when to change and know what to do, how to change.”