Drafted in the 32nd round by a Major League Baseball team located about a 30-minute drive away, Wallner turned down the Minnesota Twins in 2016.
The Twins wanted Wallner and his mid-90-mph fastball as a pitcher. Wallner wanted to be a hitter.
So Wallner bet on himself.
“I wanted to be a position player, so I think the decision not to sign came decently easy,” Wallner said on Friday, prior to the Elizabethton Twins’ game against the Kingsport Mets. “I knew I wanted to go to school, and I had a good opportunity at Southern Miss. It was pretty straightforward for the most part.
“I definitely had to believe in myself, and bet on myself for years down the road. It definitely has worked out so far, but there was a lot of hard work in between.”
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound outfielder posted a .337 career batting average with the Golden Eagles. He also hit a school-record 58 home runs in just three seasons. The Twins came calling again this year, but this time cast their lot with Wallner by using the 39th overall pick — a spot in the competitive-balance portion, between the first and second rounds.
Minnesota gave Wallner a $1.8 million signing bonus, and shipped him to the rookie-league level in Elizabethton. He made his pro debut Thursday night, going 1 for 4 with an RBI in the Twins’ 13-6 win over Bluefield.
“It felt good after not seeing pitching for three weeks,” Wallner said. “It was definitely an adjustment. I’m excited to play again (Friday night).”
Wallner said he would tell other high school players who get drafted to believe in themselves.
“But I would also say, just do what is best for you,” he said. “It’s different for different people. I felt going to school was my best option, and it definitely is the best option in my opinion.”
Wallner not only earned the type of signing bonus that wasn’t there in 2016, but also got fairly close to graduation.
“I have a little over two semesters left toward a finance degree, so I am a step ahead in that sense,” he said.
The business acumen helps Wallner understand there’s more to baseball than just nine-inning games. It’s a game, but it’s also a job.
“I would say it’s trying to find a happy medium of the two,” Wallner said. “It’s a game, but at the same time you are playing for a job. And at the end of the day, your performances decide who moves on and who doesn’t.”
Wallner said his parents are among the key people who helped him reach professional baseball.
“There are numerous people,” he said. “My parents moved me in the right direction and helped me out as a kid. They were the only reason I was able to go to events and play baseball in the first place.
“Also, it was the coaches, especially at Southern Miss. They definitely set me on the right foot to my next journey in life. So it has been parents, coaches and my teammates. I’ve been surrounded by many good people.”