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.”