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Wagner inks professional contract

By Rich Palzewic

From a reserve player his freshman year in college to a non-starter to begin his sophomore season, Max Wagner’s journey from Clemson University to the Baltimore Orioles was anything but routine.

Wagner, a second-round draft pick in this year’s MLB draft, saw his dreams turn into reality when he signed with the Orioles July 26.

Wagner confirmed to The Press Times the contract is worth $1.9 million, which was slightly above the slot value of $1.86 million for the pick.

Max, the son of Paul and Tricia Wagner, is a 2020 Green Bay Preble graduate.

“It’s been quite the journey,” Wagner said. “With starting the season on the bench, I wasn’t sure this was possible. I had confidence and knew I could do it, but needed consistent playing time.”

Wagner hit .214 his freshman year at Clemson in a reserve role as a third baseman.

To begin his sophomore campaign, he didn’t start three of the first four games but then started every game thereafter.

“It’s not the way I envisioned my season starting, but I hung in there and stayed the course,” Wagner said.

The 20-year-old Wagner had a season for the ages at Clemson in 2022, where he was named the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Player of the Year and was a finalist for the national player of the year.

He hit .369 with 27 home runs and 76 RBI, with an on-base percentage of .496 and a slugging percentage of .852.

Wagner’s 27 home runs tied the Clemson single-season record, were tied for third most in ACC history and were third most at the NCAA Division I level this season.

He said his strong season at Clemson “definitely swayed his mind” to sign his professional contract and forego his college eligibility.

“It’s bittersweet,” Wagner said. “With the opportunity I had (with the Orioles), I couldn’t pass it up. Leaving (my Clemson) teammates I’ve been with almost every day for the last two years is hard. I appreciate the time I had with them.”

Wagner said it would have been difficult to replicate his 2022 season at Clemson next season and improve his draft status, so ultimately, that was a main reason he signed.

“Being drafted where I was, I didn’t have the track record as some of the other players,” he said. “It’s been a dream of mine to be a professional baseball player since I was little, so once I got the opportunity and looked at the deal, it was a no-brainer.”

After signing his deal, Wagner took batting practice at Camden Yards – the home of the Orioles – and then headed south to Sarasota, Fla., for a mini-camp.

“It’s been awesome,” he said. “I met the whole team and staff. Being from a smaller area like Green Bay, when I first stepped foot in Camden Yards, it was amazing. I’ll cherish the experience forever.”

Wagner said the batting practice session went “really good.”

“They moved the wall back (at Camden Yards) a good bit, so it’s hard to hit one out there in left field,” he said. “I hit one out in left-center, so that was cool to see.”

The Orioles also had the first overall pick in the draft and selected Jackson Holliday, the son of former major leaguer Matt Holliday.

The 18-year-old Holliday signed his $8.19 million deal the day after Wagner inked his.

“We’ve been hanging out a good amount,” Wagner said about him and Holliday. “He’s a good kid.”
Wagner said he’s not quite sure what the Orioles have in mind for his immediate future.

“I don’t know how all this works,” he laughed. “I’ll know more after the mini-camp in Florida.”
As for the big-money deal, Wagner said it was “never about the money.”

“It goes along with the hard work my dad and I have put in since I’ve been little,” he said. “I get to continue playing baseball – a point not many people get to.”

On July 17, Wagner became the first-ever Green Bay public school player to be drafted by an MLB team.
In 2006, the Orioles drafted former West De Pere pitcher Jason Berken – who also attended Clemson – in the sixth round.

At Preble, Wagner was a three-time player of the year in the Fox River Classic Conference and was named the Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior.

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