Matt Wallner grew up going to Twins games, dreaming of wearing the uniform someday. Then the Twins drafted him as a high school pitcher. And he didn’t sign.
Three years later, Wallner isn’t a pitcher anymore, and he definitely isn’t a 32nd-round draft pick anymore — but he might still be a Twin. Minnesota used its competitive-balance pick, No. 39 overall, to draft the Forest Lake native and Southern Miss outfielder, a possibility that Wallner tried not to dwell on all day.
“I didn’t want to get too jumpy,” said Wallner, Minnesota’s Mr. Baseball his senior year in high school. “I definitely saw that pick at 39 and tried to kind of stay away” from thinking about it.
But the Twins obliged by choosing Wallner again, a choice that this time comes with a potential bonus of nearly $2 million.
“My dream has always been to play for the hometown team,” said Wallner, who this year became Southern Miss’s career-leading home run hitter. His Twins history goes back to “getting blown out” the revolving doors at the Metrodome. “Watching Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer and Torii Hunter, just so many legends when I was younger. Those guys just drew it to me.”
Wallner’s high school career was so stellar, he threw out a ceremonial first pitch at Target Field shortly after graduating. But he had committed to North Dakota, then found himself without a team when the university decided to drop baseball. Southern Miss was the only other Division I scholarship offer he had, “so I visited, and just fell in love with it. It’s been the best three years of my life,” he said. ”It’s kind of a crazy story, but definitely a blessing in disguise.”
So was turning down the Twins’ offer in 2016. Wallner was a pitcher then, and though his fastball hit 95, intriguing plenty of pro scouts, it’s not what Wallner wanted to do.
“I love hitting. I love working on outfield drills and just playing every day,” said Wallner, 21. Turns out he’s good at it, too: After coming down with a forearm issue before the season, Wallner gave up pitching. He wound up batting .323 with 22 home runs, and leading the Golden Eagles to the Conference USA tournament championship.
With their second-round pick, No. 54 overall, the Twins selected another Conference USA today star, Matt Canterino of Rice. The righthander has been Rice’s ace for the past couple of seasons, and posted a 2.81 ERA for the Owls this year, holding batters to a .199 average.