CLEVELAND -- As a little kid growing up in Forest Lake, Minn., Matt Wallner remembers being excited every day after school to watch Johan Santana, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Torii Hunter. He remembers the familiar blast of the air currents as he would walk out of the
CLEVELAND -- As a little kid growing up in Forest Lake, Minn., Matt Wallner remembers being excited every day after school to watch Johan Santana, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Torii Hunter. He remembers the familiar blast of the air currents as he would walk out of the Metrodome doors.
Wallner's adviser, Matt Laird, told him to expect the possibility of being selected between the Nos. 40 and 55 picks in the MLB Draft on Monday night. Wallner tried to avoid looking at the selection looming one pick earlier -- the Twins he grew up supporting, at No. 39.
"I didn’t want to get too jumpy at it," Wallner said. "I definitely saw that pick at 39 and kind of tried to stay away from that and not look at it."
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But as Wallner neared his expected range, surrounded by his parents, his two best friends from high school and several college teammates, he got the call that he didn't know was coming -- Laird, asking if he wanted to be a hometown pick. Wallner's answer: "Of course."
"Obviously, my dream has always been to play for the hometown team, and this is just a dream come true," Wallner said. "Just a lot of hard work and dedication, and couldn't do it without the help of the coaches and my family, and everyone who supported me."
Wallner's selection by Minnesota in the Competitive Balance A round actually marked the second time he was given the opportunity to sign with the club.
He had previously been selected by the Twins in the 32nd round of the 2016 Draft following his senior year of high school, when he was named "Mr. Baseball" in Minnesota. He originally committed to the University of North Dakota, but he was left scrambling after that program was discontinued and Wallner eventually turned his sights to the University of Southern Mississippi.
The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Wallner had garnered plenty of attention in high school for his pitching ability after going 7-1 with an 0.95 ERA during his senior season, but he entered Southern Miss knowing that he wanted to be an everyday position player.
Wallner took advantage of his collegiate opportunity by leading Conference USA in homers in his first two seasons and clubbing 58 dingers across three seasons, the most career long balls in school history.
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In 2019, with the prospect of this Draft looming large, he hit only three homers through the first 26 games of the season, but he closed out the season on a tear, clubbing 20 shots through his final 35 contests.
"Definitely, early in the year, I was probably looking at the Twins at the 39th pick and said, 'I've got to land there,'" Wallner said. "Just pressing a little too much. ... Two months into the year, I really kind of let that go and let my body work and my hands work and just kind of do what I do."
Wallner certainly took a roundabout path to get to this point -- but in the end, he put himself in a position to bring his journey full circle. And the Twins brought him home.