USM’s Wallner thrilled to join Twins

USM's Wallner thrilled to join Twins

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - In 2016, the Minnesota Twins thought enough of a fresh-off-his-senior-season Matt Wallner to toss him an invitation to play professional baseball by using a 32nd-round pick in a 40-round draft.

Three years later, the Twins were enamored even more with the University of Southern Mississippi’s long, lanky and lethal lefty hitter, who became a huge Minnesota baseball fan while growing up about 25 minutes to 30 minutes north of the Twin Cities.

The Twins, they liked him. They really, really liked him.

Minnesota made Wallner the 39th player taken in a selection process that saw 1,217 baseball players selected over a three-day exercise known as the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.

“I didn’t turn (the draft) on until like pick 31 or 32,” Wallner said. “A little later, I got a call from my adviser who asked me if I wanted to be a Twin and go back home.

“It’s kind of been a dream of mine, growing up as a kid, and then realized a little bit of it when I got drafted as a senior, but this one is for real.”

For sure. The slotting system used by MLB to figure signing bonuses for the newly drafted has Wallner slotted in for a $1.9 million welcome to baseball.

Wallner said figures had been agreed to and that he expected to sign what needed to be signed when the Twins fly him to Minneapolis this weekend for a physical and final negotiations.

“I think everything’s been worked out, but I’ll know more this weekend, obviously,” Wallner said.

Wallner became USM’s highest draft pick, selected in between the first and second rounds as a “Competitive Balance A” selection, one of half dozen or so extra picks awarded to smaller market franchises.

“I had an idea of somewhere between 40 and 60, but probably the upper end of that range,” Wallner said of his pre-draft intel. “But I was definitely eyeing that No. 39 just because it was the Twins and being a Minnesota guy.

“So, yeah, that definitely makes it more special.”

Wallner finished a storied career at USM with all-time records for home runs, slugging percentage and walks, while tying four others atop the single-season home run chart. He was Most Valuable Player at the Conference USA baseball tournament and a selection to the All-Baton Rouge Regional team.

“There’s so much with Hattiesburg and Southern Miss that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life,” Wallner said. “They’ve been the best three years of my life.

“A lot of hard work and dedication has got me into this, but also a lot of help from all the coaches here.”

Wallner said he also called former USM pitching coach Michael Federico, who has been the head coach at University of Louisiana-Monroe the past two years.

“I talked to him about just believing in me, coming up and seeing about 74 mile-an-hour pitching in high school, but still saw me and believed in me and got me down here,” Wallner said. “My family, the friends I made here. It’s all part of the experiences I’ve had here.”

Wallner was one of two Golden Eagles taken in the draft, joined by senior right-hander J.C. Keys, who was a 16th-round selection of the Cincinnati Reds.

Three Golden Eagles signees also were selected:

  • Catcher-outfielder Cody Milligan; Crowley County CC; ninth round; Atlanta
  • Right-handed pitcher Hilton Dyar; Clinton High School; 21st round; Philadelphia
  • Right-handed Michael Brewer; Hillsboro (Mo.) High School; 32nd round; Texas

USM coach Scott Berry said Wallner would be missed.

“All you have to do is look at what he has done,” Berry said. “Nobody has hit more home runs in a career than he has done, and he tied, what, four others, for home runs in a season, so, no, you don’t replace a Matt Wallner in all honesty.

“When he came to us, his potential was untapped, but his ceiling was high because of his ability. You didn’t know for sure, but certainly you’re happy for him and for us, and how it all worked together.”

List of players from Mississippi Schools and Mississippi school commits that were drafted:

Player, position, school Round, team (overall pick)
Ethan Small, P, Mississippi State 1st Round, Milwaukee Brewers (28th overall)
Matt Wallner, OF, Southern Miss Competitive Balance A, Minnesota Twins (39th overall)
Grae Kessinger, SS, Ole Miss 2nd Round, Houston Astros (68th overall)
James Beard, OF, Loyd Star HS 4th Round, Chicago White Sox (110th overall)
Jake Mangum, OF, Mississippi State 4th Round, New York Mets (118th overall)
Will Etheridge, RHP, Ole Miss 5th Round, Colorado Rockies (159th overall)
Thomas Dillard, C, Ole Miss 5th Round, Milwaukee Brewers (163rd overall)
Cooper Johnson, C, Ole Miss 6th Round, Detroit Tigers (172nd overall)
Colby White, RHP, Mississippi State 6th Round, Tampa Bay Rays (188th overall)
Ethan Hearn, C, Mobile (Ala.) Christian/MSU signee 6th Round, Chicago Cubs (192nd overall)
Cody Milligan, C-OF, Crowley County CC/USM signee 9th Round, Atlanta Braves (277th overall)
Brandon Parker, OF, Mississippi Gulf Coast CC 10th Round, Atlanta Braves, (309th overall)
Jake Randa, OF, Northwest Florida State College/MSU signee 13th Round, Washington Nationals (393rd overall)
Jared Johnson, RHP, Smithville HS/MSU signee 14th Round, Atlanta Braves (427th oveall)
Trysten Barlow, LHP, Mississippi State 16th Round, Colorado Rockies (489th overall)
Dexter Jordan, 2B, Pearl River CC/Hattiesburg 16th Round, Houston Astros (496th overall)
Dustin Skelton, C, Mississippi State 18th Round, Miami Marlins (531st overall)
Blaine Crim, 1B, Mississippi College 19th Round, Texas Rangers, (565th overall)
Christian Johnson, OF, Clinton HS 19th Round, Tampa Bay Rays (579th overall)
Jared Liebelt, RHP, Mississippi State 20th Round, Arizona Diamondbacks (602nd overall)
Parker Caracci, RHP, Ole Miss 21st Round, Toronto Blue Jays (627th overall)
Hilton Dyar, RHP, Clinton HS/USM signee 21st Round, Philadelphia Phillies (630th overall)
Cole Zabowski, 1B, Ole Miss 22nd Round, Detroit Tigers, (652nd overall)
J.C. Keys, RHP, Southern Miss 23rd Round, Cincinnati Reds (684th overall)
Keegan James, RHP, Mississippi State 25th Round, Colorado Rockies (759th overall)
Zack Phillips, LHP, Ole Miss 27th Round, Kansas City Royals (799th overall)
Dalton Fowler, LHP, Northwest Mississippi CC 27th Round, New York Mets, 808th overall)
Houston Roth, RHP, Ole Miss 29th Round, Pittsburgh Pirates (858th overall)
Marshall Gilbert, C, Mississippi State 29th Round, Baltimore Orioles (874th overall)
Jerrion Ealy, OF, Jackson Prep 31st Round, Arizona Diamondbacks (932nd overall)
Peyton Plumlee, RHP, Mississippi State 31st Round, Houston Astros (946th overall)
Michael Brewer, OF, Hillsboro (Mo.) HS/USM signee 32nd Round, Texas Rangers (956th overall)
Cole Gordon, RHP, Mississippi State 32nd Round, New York Mets (958th overall)
Tanner Allen, 1B, Mississippi State 34th Round, Colorado Rockies (1,029th overall)
Hayden Dunhurst, C, Pearl River Central HS 37th Round, Colorado Rockies (1,119th overall)
Jackson Lancaster, OF, Itawamba CC 38th Round, Seattle Mariners (1,146th overall)
Derek Diamond, RHP, Ramona (Calif.) HS/Ole Miss signee 40th Round, Arizona Diamondbacks (1,202nd overall)

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