Brandon Wagner | IF
Wagner, 23, is a local kid who grew up in Somerville, New Jersey, and attended Immaculata High School. Baseball America (subs. req’d) did not rank him among the top 500 prospects for the 2013 draft, but the Phillies did select Wagner in the 39th round (1,171st overall). He did not sign out of high school and instead headed to Howard College in Texas, a two-year school.
As a freshman with the Hawks, Wagner put up a strong .314/.488/.490 batting line with four homers and more walks (47) than strikeouts (40) in 48 games. Despite that, Baseball America (subs. req’d) did not rank Wagner among their top 500 prospects for the 2014 draft, and he was not selected. He returned to Howard for his sophomore year and hit .435/.571/.891 with 22 homers and again more walks (46) than strikeouts (43) in 58 games. That earned him conference MVP honors.
Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked Wagner as the 438th best prospect in the 2015 draft class. The Yankees selected him in the sixth round (183rd overall) and signed him to a straight slot $256,000 bonus. At age 19, Wagner was one of the youngest college players in his draft class.
Wagner was sent directly to the short season Staten Island Yankees for his pro debut in 2015. He hit .228/.347/.364 (116 wRC+) with four homers, a 25.4% strikeout rate, and a 14.5% walk rate in 52 games. The Yankees held Wagner back in Extended Spring Training to begin 2016 and eventually assigned him to the rookie Gulf Coast League and rookie Appalachian League. He hit .267/.369/.471 (144 wRC+) with eight homers and good strikeout (21.1%) and walk (12.8%) rates in 54 total games that year.
The Yankees assigned Wagner to Low-A Charleston in 2017, his first full season ball assignment, and he responded with a .277/.380/.392 (128 wRC+) batting line and seven homers in 110 games. His walk rate (13.0%) was very good. His strikeout rate (26.4%) was a tad high. Wagner moved up to High-A Tampa last season and had a breakout year, a breakout year that saw him get promoted to Double-A Trenton in the second half. The numbers:
After hitting 19 home runs in 216 pro games from 2015-17, Wagner swatted 20 homers in 87 games with High-A Tampa alone last year. Double-A wasn’t as kind, but, you know, it happens. The Yankees had Wagner participate in Instructional League following last season.
Built solidly at 6-foot-0 and 200 lbs., Wagner is a classic left-handed hitting corner infield masher. His calling card is above-average power to all fields, though, like everyone else, he does the most damage when he speeds up his bat and pulls the ball. Wagner started to really tap into his power last season following some offseason adjustments that turned him into a launch angle guy. His year-to-year ground ball rates:
- 2015: 51.4%
- 2016: 46.4%
- 2017: 45.5%
- 2018: 35.6%
Wagner’s plate discipline is excellent and bordering on passive. There are times he’ll let hittable pitches go by. And despite having some length to his swing, Wagner doesn’t swing-and-miss a whole lot. His 9.4% swing-and-miss rate last season is better than average and, among the 253 minor leaguers with at least 500 plate appearances last year, only five combined a lower swing-and-miss rate and a higher ISO than Wagner’s marks (9.4% and .194, respectively).
Wagner is ticketed for a return to Double-A Trenton this season following his 37-game cameo at the level last year, in which he did little besides walk. Trenton is a brutal ballpark for left-handed hitters — the breeze comes in off the Delaware River beyond the right field wall and knocks fly balls down, especially at night — so don’t be surprised if his early season power numbers are down. A midseason promotion to Triple-A Scranton could be in the cards, though the RailRiders may have as many as three true first basemen on the roster in Greg Bird, Mike Ford, and Ryan McBroom. I suspect the Yankees will make room in Triple-A should Wagner really force the issue.
I’m not the biggest Wagner fan. The swing is a little too long for my liking and I worry upper level pitchers will give him trouble. Wagner strikes me as a potential National League bench bat. A lefty pinch-hitter who can put a mistake in the seats, play some first base and maybe left field, and also fill in at third base in a pinch. American League teams can use a guy like that too, sure. It’s just that the so-called Senior Circuit offers more pinch-hitting opportunities. Wagner went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft in December and I’m not sure he can be anything more than an up-and-down guy for a contending team. If the Yankees get a chance to cash him in as a trade chip, they should pounce.