Max Wagner sat in Clemson’s dugout in February as his teammates took the field against Indiana. The sophomore wasn’t in the Tigers’ opening day lineup, and he wouldn’t start the next day either. Up to that point, he’d hit two career home runs and had played sparingly as a backup third baseman.
Five months, 500 miles and 75 college hits later, Wagner sat in a different dugout Tuesday.
In a fresh-printed Orioles jersey emblazoned with his name, Wagner spoke with reporters at Camden Yards for the first time after officially signing with Baltimore in the second round as the No. 42 overall pick of the 2022 Major League Baseball draft earlier this month.
“These last five months have definitely been crazy for me,” he said. “I had confidence in myself that I could get here, but just the journey that I’ve been on the last five months has been unreal.”
Wagner started just one of the first five games this year for Clemson, a team which did not make this year’s NCAA Tournament. But once in the lineup, he smacked the ball all over the field. His 27 home runs tied for the third-most in NCAA Division I, he easily led the Atlantic Coast Conference in slugging percentage and was named the ACC Player of the Year.
Suddenly, Clemson’s backup third baseman was a coveted MLB prospect. The Orioles selected him in the second round of last week’s draft and signed him for $1.9 million, a source with direct knowledge of the deal told The Baltimore Sun, just over the slot value of $1,861,900.
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Wagner’s senior high school season in Green Bay, Wisconsin, was canceled due to the coronavirus in 2020 and any chance that he may get selected in that summer’s draft — he was rated as the No. 213 high school player by Perfect Game — were dashed when the draft was abbreviated from 40 rounds to five. The next year, as a true freshman at Clemson, he hit .214 in a reserve role.
Before this season, Wagner knew he was eligible for the draft, unlike most sophomores, because he’ll soon turn 21. But that wasn’t on his mind as he fought for playing time.
“I didn’t really think about that,” he said, “I just thought about having fun and competing with my teammates, just trying to make the most of it.”
Wagner does have an Orioles connection. His father served as a hitting instructor at Impact Sports Academy in Wisconsin — which is run by another Green Bay native, Clemson player and Orioles’ draft pick, Jason Berken, who pitched for Baltimore from 2009 to 2012.
As a native of Green Bay, home of the Packers, Wagner’s family has season tickets to Lambeau Field. So, it’s unlikely he’ll convert to being a Ravens fan.
“That’s gonna be tough,” he said. “Being from Green Bay, it’s kind of hard to get away from the Packers.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Nathan Ruiz contributed to this article.