Wallner joins elite company with another crushed hit

July 9th, 2024

CHICAGO -- Here’s a really darn good list to be on when gauging one’s ability to absolutely demolish a baseball into the next dimension:

Shohei Ohtani, Giancarlo Stanton, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Oneil Cruz … and now, .

That’s the full list of MLB players to hit multiple balls at 116 mph or harder this season -- and Wallner has hit his two in the last two days since he returned from a stint with Triple-A St. Paul. The second of those was a game-tying 116.7 mph homer in the Twins’ four-run seventh on Monday, which loomed large in their 8-6 win over the White Sox in 11 innings.

“When he barrels the ball up, it's like those big guys in the league that are on those lists when they're hitting the ball 118 mph,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “That's not normal stuff, even for us here.”

Another bombastic Wallner performance combined with the continued steadfast hitting of rookie sensation Brooks Lee, the No. 13 prospect in baseball, who knocked two RBI singles, including the go-ahead knock in the top of the 11th, to extend his career-opening hitting streak to six games, with RBIs in five of those games.

This has been a totally different Wallner than the seemingly lost version of the slugger who began the season 2-for-25 with 17 strikeouts before that demotion to the Minors to reset his approach and swing. This version is hitting the ball harder than anyone else on the team -- and, more importantly, hitting the ball, period.

The latter is more important, because when Wallner is making contact, the baseball will typically become a hazard for whatever is in its path. Case in point: The first three balls hit by Wallner in this return trip to the Majors were clocked at 116.8 mph (single), 111.2 mph (double) and 116.7 mph (homer), already accounting for the two hardest-hit balls by any Twin this year.

So … don’t blink when he’s at the plate.

“I mean, it’s a joke,” Lee said of Wallner’s abilities. “It’s a joke. Yeah, I thought I hit the ball hard yesterday and it was like 99 [mph]. I don’t understand it. If he hits one near me and I’m at first base, he’s going to kill me.”

Wallner is now 3-for-5 since his return, with a 10-pitch walk off the Astros’ Spencer Arrighetti on Sunday and only one strikeout, coming on Monday against White Sox starter Chris Flexen.

After initially struggling following his demotion to Triple-A, Wallner finally found the adjustments that worked for him, and he looks physically different in his swing. His hands are a little higher and he’s striding towards the ball more “in-line,” he said, combining to give him a little bit more time to recognize and react to pitches as they travel to the plate.

Once it clicked, it really clicked -- before his promotion back to the Majors on Sunday, he’d been named the International League Player of the Month for June, when he hit 12 homers with a 1.127 OPS.

“It was a journey that I don’t know if I’ve ever been on,” Wallner said. “I knew I was going to struggle down there to start and just trying to work out some swing things. I knew it wasn’t going to be an overnight thing and just being patient with it and just believing that it would come back. Just being rewarded for the hard work is the best, honestly.”

This looks far more like the version of Wallner who hit 14 homers with an .877 OPS in 76 games last season to help a late-blooming Minnesota offense consolidate into one of the league’s more effective groups. This year, he might be the cherry on top for an increasingly productive lineup that already looked to be finding elite form without him.

Why does it matter that Wallner can hit the ball so hard, you might ask? Consider that batted balls at 116 mph or harder have accounted for an .803 batting average and 1.881 slugging percentage since Statcast began tracking, which is an evidence-based way to show the simple truth that hitting the ball really, really hard leads to really, really good outcomes.

And very few people in this league can hit balls really, really hard in the way that Wallner can when he’s feeling good.

“He’s a large man with a good swing,” Baldelli said.