Max Wagner was an accomplished two-way prep player during his career at Preble (Wis.) High School. The Green Bay, Wisconsin, native shined at the plate and consistently destroyed high school pitching to earn numerous accolades.
His success allowed him to garner some interest in the 2020 MLB draft. Due to the shortening of the draft to five rounds, Wagner didn’t hear his name called and honored his commitment to Clemson University.
Wagner struggled to square up pitches and drive the ball consistently during his freshman season at Clemson last year. But the experience he gained last season has helped him in his second year.
Wagner has taken a significant step forward to establish himself as one of the best hitters in college baseball this season. His success has led to him enhancing his status in anticipation of July’s draft.
“All I knew offensively was high school pitching,” Wagner said. “It’s a big difference with the big thing being adapting to velocity. Just being able to change my swing and be on time for the fastball has been the biggest improvement I have carried on to my second year.”
Wagner is hitting .383 with 15 doubles, 24 home runs and 69 RBIs in 180 at-bats in 52 games. This season, he has increased his offensive production by an incredible amount. Last year, Wagner posted a .214 batting average with five doubles, two home runs and nine RBIs in 84-at bats in 35 games.
Scouts have noticed Wagner’s success this season. He is a draft-eligible sophomore, with scouts projecting him as a likely top-five-round pick in July’s draft.
“The draft is important and a big life decision, but I’m just trying to help my team get into the ACC Tournament,” Wagner said. “I have had a great season so far, but I am just trying to keep working and get better. It hasn’t shocked me because I have played baseball for a while, but as a kid from Wisconsin and doing really in the ACC is just really cool to see for myself. Hopefully, it can continue.”
Wagner is a 6-foot, 215-pound right-handed hitter who uses an open stance and is direct to the baseball. His quick swing allows him to drive the ball with authority to all parts of the field. He possesses above-average raw power.
This season, Wagner has improved his plate discipline after recording 31 strikeouts compared to 11 walks last year. He has tallied 43 strikeouts to 41 walks this spring.
“Consistency has been key for me this year,” Wagner said. “Just keeping the same approach, swing and mindset every day. I am just trying to stay the same person day in and day out. I want to have a really good approach at the plate. This year, I feel confident in my hitting. That is a strength of mine right now.”
Defensively, Wagner has played third base at Clemson after playing shortstop in high school. Wagner has the traits to stay at third base long term. He moves well and has a strong arm.
Wagner has committed 11 errors in 135 chances for a .919 fielding percentage this season.
“I have always felt that my defense is solid,” Wagner said. “You can stick me anywhere. We have had some injuries throughout the year, so I have had to try out shortstop, second and third base. You can stick me anywhere on the infield. I will be able to compete.”
Wagner has played an essential role in Clemson’s success this year.
After making 11 straight NCAA tournament appearances from 2009-19, the Tigers missed the tournament last year. This season, the Tigers hope to return to the tournament.
To have a chance to make the NCAA tournament, the Tigers first need to qualify for the ACC Tournament. The Tigers (32-20, 10-16 ACC) and Duke (22-29, 10-17) are competing for the 12th and final spot in the 14-team field.
“We just have to play our brand of baseball,” Wagner said. “Hopefully, we can get into the ACC Tournament. It’s pretty much playoff baseball. Hopefully, we can finish the year off strong and head into the ACC Tournament. And then keep going from there.”
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Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for seven years. He has interviewed 356 of the top draft prospects in that period, including four No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he has appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.