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Louie Varland and Matt Wallner win Twins’ top minor-league awards

The two Minnesotans — Varland from Maplewood, Wallner from Forest Lake — gave hometown fans plenty to cheer about this season, both in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Both started the year with Double-A Wichita before earning a pair of promotions and debuting in September.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Chicago White Sox
Oct 5, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; <br/>Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Louie Varland delivers against the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Chicago. Varland picked up his first career win in the Twins 10-1 win.
Kamil Krzaczynski / USA Today Sports
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ST. PAUL -- On Wednesday, starting pitcher Louie Varland picked up his first career win and right fielder Matt Wallner drove in a run in support of him in the Twins’ 10-1 victory over the White Sox in Chicago.

On Thursday, the two locals were named the Twins’ Minor League Pitcher and Player of the Year respectively, marking the first time that two Minnesota natives have won the award in the same season.

“I’m glad we have them in the organization and really hoping they establish themselves and become big parts of what we’re doing moving forward,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “The Minnesota connection is just wild to me.”

twins-mugs-louie-varland.jpg
Louie Varland

The two Minnesotans — Varland from Maplewood, Wallner from Forest Lake — gave hometown fans plenty to cheer about this season, both in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Both started the year with Double-A Wichita before earning a pair of promotions and debuting in September.

Varland, 24, became the second pitcher to win the award in consecutive years, joining José Berríos. He posted a 3.06 earned-run average this season across 24 minor-league games at Double- and Triple-A, striking out 146 batters in 126.1 innings.

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Varland, a North St. Paul High School and Concordia-St. Paul University alum, debuted in the big leagues in early September. In four starts in the majors, he gave up 11 runs in 26 innings (3.81 ERA). In his final start of the season, Varland was staked to a six-run lead before he even touched the mound, but capped off his season with five shutout innings against the White Sox on his way to his first career win.

“It helps a lot,” Varland said of spending the final month of the season in the majors. “I know exactly what I need to work on. Going into spring training (next season), I have a couple of starts under my belt so that debut pressure is off me and I can just focus on competing to try to make the roster in spring.”

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Minnesota Twins
Minnesota Twins right fielder Matt Wallner makes a catch in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Angels on Sept. 23, 2022, at Target Field. Wallner played well when he was called up to replace the injured Max Kepler, and he was named the team's Minor League Player of the Year.
Jordan Johnson / USA Today Sports

Wallner, 24, joined the Twins for later in the month, after hitting .277 with a .953 OPS, along with a career-high 27 home runs across the two highest levels of the minor leagues. He dramatically upped his walk rate, too, posting a .412 on-base percentage after changing his approach to try to be more patient at the plate.

The Forest Lake grad homered off former Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber in his first career game, and collected 13 hits in his 18-game stint in the majors this September. His season came after a 2021 in which he played in just 68 minor-league games — plus an appearance at the Arizona Fall League — because of a broken hamate bone, which required surgery.

twins-mugs-matt-wallner.jpg
Matt Wallner

“It’s been, I think, a good year overall,” Wallner said. “I was able to kind of basically stay healthy the whole year, and that was the biggest accomplishment honestly. But just made some adjustments coming in and was able to kind of stay steady throughout the year.”

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With no trip to the Fall League on tap this year, Wallner said he thinks he’ll start hitting a little bit earlier this offseason — he hopes to cover the top of the strike zone better — down in Mississippi, near where he attended college at Southern Mississippi.

“They’re talented, and they’ve made adjustments at the minor-league levels very well, and that’s right where you want to be. When you’re at that stage and that age, that’s what you’re looking for,” Baldelli said of the duo. “Now it’s time for them to make kind of the same rapid adjustments that they made at the minor-league level at the major-league level, and that’s even harder to do. But you’re going to bet on guys that have done it before, and you’re going to bet on guys that have the physical ability they have.”

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