Plenty has been made -- and deservedly so -- of the first-time All-Star selections for both Byron Buxton and Luis Arraez. But in today’s edition of the Twins Beat Newsletter, I hope you can learn a bit about the other two players from the organization who will be featured during the upcoming festivities as part of the All-Star Futures Game.
Here comes the future
The two leading home run hitters in the Twins’ Minor League system will represent the organization in Saturday’s All-Star Futures Game at Dodger Stadium -- and they took vastly different developmental paths to get there.
Matt Wallner leads the organization with 21 homers with Double-A Wichita so far this season, and he was always expected to be that kind of hitter, from the moment he was selected with the No. 39 pick of the 2019 MLB Draft. On the other hand, few could have expected this sort of power output from Spencer Steer, who was selected two rounds and 51 picks later in that same Draft and has 19 round-trippers to his name across Double-A and Triple-A.
But here they are, two hitters who emerged from amateur ball with very different player profiles but find themselves with similarly gaudy statistics midway through their third seasons of pro ball, moving up prospect boards while pushing themselves to the cusp of the big leagues -- and a chance to shine in the Majors' annual prospect showcase.
"I'm just looking to soak it all in, you know?” Steer said. “You get to play in a big league stadium, and you get to play with some of the best young players in the world. That kind of speaks for itself, how cool that's going to be. I'm just going to be a sponge and soak it all in.”
What to know about Wallner
Wallner was always meant to mash baseballs into the stratosphere. A local kid from Forest Lake, Minn., he emerged from the University of Southern Mississippi as the school’s all-time home run leader, and he looks every bit the part with his imposing 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame that projects to a corner outfield position.
As with many sluggers with that kind of prodigious power, Wallner’s aim since entering the organization was to patch up the holes and reduce the swing-and-miss in his swing. The 24-year-old has worked hard to cut down on the whiffs and improve his selectivity, and even while facing Double-A pitching for the first time, he has already posted career highs across the board in just about every meaningful offensive statistic.
“Just trying to take my walks when I can and just try to be more selective on pitches to drive the ball more and hit for more power,” Wallner said. “I think it's helped the average as well.”
Last season (68 games): .265/.350/.504, 15 homers, 14 doubles, 100 strikeouts, 28 walks
This season (77 games): .288/.429/.587, 21 homers, 14 doubles, 107 strikeouts, 61 walks
Wallner’s strikeout rate has dropped from 32.7 percent in High-A last season to 31.8 percent in Double-A, but more significantly, his walk rate has nearly doubled from 9.3 percent to 18.2 percent. Despite a slow start to the season, he fell into a strong routine with his work off the machine and front toss in the batting cages in late April, and he has seemingly long since shrugged off the slowdown of a hamate injury that hampered him at the end of last season.
“The first couple of weeks, I was just kind of bouncing back and forth between what I wanted to do in the cages and on the field,” Wallner said. “I just kind of found a couple of drills and the machine work that I liked and got in more of a routine. I think that's how we locked in.”
What to know about Steer
On the other hand, Steer was a line-drive hitter with little power in college but strong plate discipline and a knack for getting the barrel to the baseball when the Twins drafted him out of the University of Oregon. They hoped that with some tweaks to his swing mechanics, Steer could drive the ball with more authority for extra bases.
But few could have seen this sort of jump coming.
Steer worked during the 2020 Minor League shutdown on his lower-half mechanics with the hopes of transferring force from the ground more efficiently into his swing, complementing that with breathing and stretching work.
In 2019, his first season of pro ball, he hit four homers in 64 games. Coming out of the pandemic-canceled season, Steer came out of nowhere to go yard 24 times in 110 games during the ‘21 campaign. The Twins had hoped the infielder could get to that power without adding too much swing-and-miss to his game, and he did just that -- with the hope that added experience in the high Minors could continue to refine those numbers.
It sure looks like he has succeeded in that, with 19 homers, 23 doubles and two triples through 73 games across Double-A Wichita and Triple-A St. Paul, already putting him one extra-base hit short of his total from all of last season. A native of Long Beach, Calif., Steer expects to have 20-30 people in the stands at Dodger Stadium, where he’s excited to have two of his brothers watch him play for the first time as a professional.
Last season (110 games): .254/.348/.484, 24 homers, 105 strikeouts (21.5 percent), 55 walks (11.3 percent)
This season (73 games): .277/.361/.561, 19 homers, 58 strikeouts (17.2 percent), 33 walks (9.8 percent)
"My only real goal was to just prove that the power, that's the kind of player I'm going to be going forward and that it wasn't just one year that I hit a lot of home runs,” Steer said. “I wanted to prove that I can do that year after year.
"I knew I could do it, but it's just kind of taking doubts out of the Twins' minds and other people's minds that it's who I can be going forward."