Twins prospect Matt Wallner working to ‘prove himself’ after brief taste of majors
“I think definitely gave me a different perspective,” the outfielder said.
Three weeks in the majors at the end of last season taught Forest Lake, Minnesota, native Matt Wallner a whole lot about big-league baseball.
“There’s a lot of good players in the world,” Wallner said.
Wallner, the Minnesota Twins’ No. 7 prospect per MLB Pipeline, is one of them. But he still has a ways to go to establish himself as a major leaguer, and his brief taste of the major leagues last September gave him a good glimpse of what it will take to stick.
“I think it was a really good experience, just seeing some of the best players in the world and then playing in front of those stadiums and those fans,” Wallner said. “I think it definitely gave me a different perspective.”
More important, Wallner believes, was observing his teammates in the clubhouse, seeing how they act and hold themselves both on and off the field. “Just from a maturity standpoint,” he said.
Wallner hit .228/.323/.386 in 18 games with the Twins, homering in his major league debut off of former Cy Young winner Shane Bieber. He said he has backed off the plate a little bit in hopes of getting to more inside pitches. Seeing and hitting high fastballs, which he said is what he has struggled with most, has been a point of emphasis during his cage work this spring.
Wallner, who is 5 for 20 with a home run in spring action this year, called himself a “fringe guy,” and it’s clear he understands the roster math. It’s unlikely that he makes the team out of camp, but there is reason to believe he’ll be promoted at some point this season.
“I think that he has all the makings of a good major league hitter. Now, he has to continue to prove himself,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “ … He has a lot to still prove and figure out, but he’s well on the way of doing it. I’ve been very pleased with him.”
Rather than where he’ll start the season, Wallner’s focus is making sure he starts it strong. Last year at Double-A Wichita, he started 3 for 41 at the plate. He wound up hitting .277/.412/.542 with a .953 OPS and 27 home runs between Double and Triple-A before his late-season promotion.
“I just want to have the best camp I (can),” he said. “Whatever happens, happens. 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.”
There was a smattering of fans, a handful of teammates and a few media members keeping watch when Kenta Maeda threw live batting practice on a backfield Monday morning, so very few people can refute the veteran right-hander’s claim.
“No runners, absolutely zero,” Maeda said through interpreter Daichi Sekizaki with a smile.
Instead of starting against the Yankees, Maeda faced a handful of his teammates, including Byron Buxton, Alex Kirilloff, Jorge Polanco and Nick Gordon, all of whom are working their way back from various injuries.
“The lineup I faced today was probably better than the game lineup,” he said.
Maeda threw four innings of live BP at roughly 15 pitches per inning, finishing somewhere around 60 pitches. Because it was not in regular game action, he used the time to work on things he might not have otherwise.
“Just delivery mechanics,” he said. “Some things to work on since last outing wasn’t good. I worked on that this time, to increase the quality of offspeed pitches. So, I threw more offspeed pitches than I would in a game.”
The Twins will play split squad games on Tuesday with a group headed up to play Tampa Bay and a group staying back at Hammond Stadium. Randy Dobnak will start in St. Petersburg, while Bailey Ober will draw the start at Hammond Stadium.
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