Wherever he’s been, Matt Wallner has hit for power. He served notice by setting freshman records at Southern Miss for home runs (19) and RBIs (63). He ended up setting a school record for career homers with 58, slamming 23 in a junior season that led the Twins to scoop him up in the Competitive Balance Round A (No. 39 overall) in the 2019 Draft.
Wallner hit eight more out of the park during his pro debut, though he also struck out in 27.5 percent of his plate appearances. It was a harbinger of things to come as the Twins’ No. 14 prospect slugged .504 during his full-season debut in High-A this year, while also registering a 33.3 percent K rate.
“I thought it was decent,” Wallner said about his output. “A little too much swing-and-miss, but overall, I thought it went pretty well. It was definitely a good season to build on.”
He’s building on it by playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. And he’s also making up for lost at-bats. Wallner hit 15 homers this year, but in just 68 total games as a broken hamate forced him out of action for nearly two months. He was back in the lineup daily from late July on, but as is often the case with that injury, he wasn’t feeling at full strength for much of the second half of the year.
“The first month, month-and-a-half back, it was definitely difficult,” Wallner said. “It was wearing on me a little bit. Now it’s 100 percent, but coming back initially, it was a little bit tough. I had to learn to work with it and work around it.”
That also made it a bit tougher for the corner infielder to really get into a groove with his swing and his contact rate. He’s grateful the Twins saw enough to send him to Arizona this fall and he wants to use the extra reps to help him become a more complete hitter.
“It’s a really cool opportunity,” Wallner said. “It shows that they trust me a little bit. I’m excited to be out here.
“[I’m working on] avoiding the swing-and-miss as much as I can, so just approach. I’m going to get a little defensive work while I’m here, just learn from the guys that are here and talk to them, see their plan at the plate and see what pitchers have to say about facing hitters, so just a little learning tool while I’m here.”
Twins hitters in the AFL
Andrew Bechtold, 3B/C: The power Bechtold showed off at Chipola Junior College that helped him land in the fifth round of the 2017 Draft finally started showing up more consistently this year, as the corner infielder hit 18 homers and slugged .459 in Double-A. He was drafted as a third baseman and has seen the bulk of his professional time at the hot corner, with some time at first in 2021. More noteworthy, though, might be the one game behind the plate he had during the regular season. That wasn’t an emergency situation; the Twins want to see how he can develop there and he’s continuing to work on those skills this fall.
Michael Helman, 2B/OF: The Twins looked like they might have a steal when they took Helman in the 11th round of the 2018 Draft after a big year at Texas A&M. He promptly raked his way to full-season ball in his first pro summer and hit .361/.409/.510 in 39 games. A jump to High-A didn’t go well in 2019 so he repeated the level this year and he finished a home run shy of a 20-20 season. He also started seeing time in all three outfield positions, something he is continuing in the AFL while trying to earn a spot on the Twins’ 40-man roster.
Twins pitchers in the AFL
Zach Featherstone, LHP: A two-way player in junior college, Featherstone was actually drafted as an outfielder by the Twins. He spent one summer as a hitter before moving back to the mound in 2017, but only pitched 18 1/3 innings in 2017-18 before needing Tommy John surgery. He missed all of 2019 and 2020 was obviously a wash, but he opened some eyes by striking out 15.2 per nine in 40 relief outings in High-A this year. He also walked 6.9/9, so he’s working on command while seeing how his stuff plays against a higher level of competition.
Kody Funderburk, LHP: A Mesa area native who knows the Fall League well, Funderburk went from Mesa Community College to Dallas Baptist to the Twins as a 15th-round pick in the 2018 Draft. A two-way player in college, he’s only pitched as a pro, mostly as a starter. He did strike out 11 per nine this year while reaching Double-A, and it’s worth noting he pitched very well out of the 'pen after the promotion, with a 1.25 ERA and a .169 BAA in seven outings.
Cody Laweryson, RHP: Laweryson spent his first two years at the University of Maine pitching out of the bullpen, with a successful move to the rotation as a junior landing him in the 14th round of the 2019 Draft. After a solid pro debut that summer, his 2021 was delayed until June because of injury, though he did miss a lot of bats (11.2 K/9) over 58 2/3 innings of work as a starter in High-A.
Evan Sisk, LHP: Sisk had pitched his way from High-A to Double-A in the Cardinals organization when he was sent to the Twins as part of the J.A. Happ deal at this year’s Trade Deadline. The lefty reliever struck out 11.72 per nine in 2021, but also walked close to six over that span. He’s still getting to know his new organization while trying to refine his command to either earn a 40-man spot or appeal to other teams in the Rule 5 Draft.