He ended the season at Clemson as the ACC Player of the Year. But when the year started for the Tigers, third baseman Max Wager, who hit just .214 in the 2021 college season, was not even in the starting lineup. But once he got in, he stayed in.
His big year led him to that ACC honor and to becoming the third MLB Draft selection by the Orioles on the the first night of the draft. They selected him in round two, No. 42 overall. Not bad for a kid from Green Bay, Wis., who had an OPS of just .651 in 2021.
The Orioles announced the signing of Wagner today, officially their third signed selection following Cal outfielder Dylan Beavers (No. 33 overall) and University of Florida outfielder Jud Fabian (No. 67).
The club announced this afternoon that it will hold a press conference tomorrow to introduce their No. 1 overall selection, high school shortstop Jackson Holliday.
Wagner talked to O's reporters today in a dugout interview about the amazing improvement he made this year at Clemson.
“I did not start on opening day against Indiana this year,” he said. “And then they put me in and I pretty much thrived when I got put in. And I never stopped.”
Over 58 games, he batted .370/.496/.852 with 15 doubles, 27 homers, 76 RBIs and an OPS of 1.348. He was ranked No. 66 in this draft class by MLB.com and No. 70 by Baseball America. Wagner said he may have even surprised himself in doing so well this year.
“Sometimes I did. Especially the second half of my season, how that went," he said. "But it just rolls off the confidence on the mental side, which I really worked on. These last five months have definitely been crazy for me. I had confidence in myself that I could get here, but just the journey I’ve been on the last five months has been unreal.”
How did he come so far with his play? He said not all of that was about baseball skills.
“Just experience," Wagner said. "And being able to work with my mental (skills) coach at Clemson, pretty much every week really helped. Kind of just grow the mental side. I could accept failure better and just grow off of that. The game of baseball you have to accept failure and that is going to make you succeed a lot more.
“The mental side of my game I never really worked on in high school. But freshman year, that was one part of my game I knew if I started to get better at that, I would become a better player. I think the mental side is the toughest part of baseball. There are days you go 0-for-4 and days you go 4-for-4. You have to find that in-between and be the same player every day.”
Wagner is the first Clemson Tiger drafted by the Orioles since Stevie Wilkerson in 2014. He tied for third in the nation in home runs and was second in slugging percentage. His 27 homers tied the Clemson school season record and tied for third-most in a season in ACC history as well. Wagner hit a home run every 7.5 at bats in 2022, easily setting a school record, and his .852 slugging percentage was second-highest in a season. He also reached base via a hit, walk or hit-by-pitch in each of the last 42 games.
“Definitely hitting,” he said was where his game took the biggest leap this year. “Being able to hit to all parts of the field. Seeing the ball (travel) deep and being able to compete with two strikes has really been a big part of my game.”
The Green Bay kid is very excited to be now wearing orange and black, but he is unlikely to change his NFL fandom even though he now works for a Baltimore team.
“To be able to come to a great organization like the Orioles, just really cool to see this team on an upswing," he said.
“I’m very excited being from Green Bay and being able to live out my dream. I’m showing kids from my area we can do it. The whole Ravens thing, that’s going to be tough, being from Green Bay, it’s kind of hard to get away from the Packers."