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Now healthy, Twins prospect Matt Wallner uses Arizona Fall League as time for growth

Wallner is a Forest Lake native selected by the Minnesota Twins with the 39th overall pick in the 2019 draft.

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Matt Wallner of Forest Lake, Minn., was taken as the 39th overall pick in the 2019 Major League Baseball draft by the Minnesota Twins. St. Paul Pioneer Press file photo

ST. PAUL -- Matt Wallner felt a pop in his hand after fouling off a pitch last May and immediately knew something wasn’t right. The outfielder tried to swing again and found he couldn’t grip the bat.

He was 99% sure it was the hamate bone.

His self-diagnosis was correct, and while a broken right hamate, which required surgery to repair, was better than some of the alternatives — like tendon or ligament damage — it still altered the trajectory of what seemed to be a breakout season.

Wallner, a Forest Lake native selected by the Minnesota Twins with the 39th overall pick in the 2019 draft, returned to Class-A Advanced Cedar Rapids about two months later. His hand, he said, didn’t feel quite right until he took a short break after the regular season. On Friday, he wrapped up a pain-free stint in the Arizona Fall League, playing with and against some of the top prospects in Minor League Baseball.

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Wallner took some time off between the end of the regular season and the beginning of the Fall League, allowing himself to rest his hand for the first time since having the surgery. During the entirety of his time in Arizona, it didn’t bother him “one bit,” he said, and he was able to use the opportunity in Arizona to make up for lost at-bats that he missed during the season. Wallner finished his time in Arizona hitting .303 with a .405 on-base percentage and .606 slugging percentage (1.011 OPS), hitting six home runs in 18 games.

“(I’ve) definitely still struggled at times and done well at other times, but it’s just a learning curve at all times,” Wallner said. “Playing with other people when 99 percent of the other guys aren’t playing definitely gives me an edge, which is definitely a good thing.”

While he had hoped to strike out less — the outfielder struck out in 34 percent of his plate appearances — he did draw nine walks, which he was happy about. Wallner struck out at a similar clip during the regular season, fanning in a third of his plate appearances in Cedar Rapids.

“I’ve definitely struck out a little more than I would have liked, but I think I’ve walked at a decent rate as well. So, that’s definitely key for me and just one thing at a time,” he said. “The walks (are) good but I think learning some of the pitches I can and can’t handle going into next year will hopefully (help me) continue to work on striking out less and putting the ball in play more.”

Wallner finished his regular season hitting .264 with a .350 on-base percentage and .508 slugging percentage, hitting 15 home runs in 66 games with the Kernels. Before the injury, he was slashing .333/.384/.621 and after the surgery and rehab — which was spent at the Twins’ facility in Fort Myers, Fla. — Wallner noticed he was unable to take some of the swings he could normally make and hit some of the pitches that he would normally hit.

Now, he’s back to where he wants to be physically, and plans on spending the rest of the offseason training in Mississippi, where he has gotten a place near his college, the University of Southern Mississippi.

But first, he’ll enjoy some well-deserved time off after his stint in the AFL.

“It’s just cool to bounce ideas off different guys and strategies that they have going into the game, at the plate, in the field, whatever,” Wallner said shortly before the AFL wrapped up. “I’ve definitely learned a lot since I’ve been out here, even in a short six weeks. So, it’s definitely been good for me.”

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Related Topics: BASEBALLMINNESOTA TWINS
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