Zander Wiel Showcases Toughness in Tough League

Digging out from an unexpectedly slow start to his third pro season was encouraging enough for first baseman Zander Wiel. Doing it with five stitches in his face?

“That was impressive,” vice president for player personnel Mike Radcliff said of the Twins’ 12th-round pick in 2015. “I felt bad for the guy. He killed it in spring training, looked like he was going to take right off and then got off to a terrible start. And once he finally got going, he got hit in the face by a pitch.”

The 24-year-old Wiel, who starred for Vanderbilt’s College World Series championship team in 2014, missed a game at high Class A Fort Myers after the beaning required stitches—but only one game.

The Twins believe that’s an example of his determination to improve.

“This guy has made a lot of progress in the last calendar year,” Radcliff said. “He’s serious about being a major league prospect. (The Florida State League) is a hard league to hit in (because of) giant parks, lots of rain, lots of hot weather and batting practice being cancelled a lot.

“It’s easy to look up and find yourself hitting .180. He’s taking it as a challenge.”

Actually, Wiel hit .138 the first week, but he gradually got comfortable and collected 20 extra-base hits in his first 39 games.

“He’s got real power. He can hit it out in any direction,” Radcliff said of the righthanded batter. “He’s not a huge straight-pull hitter. He’s going to drive it into the gaps, and when he gets some lift, it’ll go out.”

Wiel cranked 19 home runs and drove in a Midwest League-leading 86 runs at low Class A Cedar Rapids in 2016. He finished seventh in walks with 55, albeit with 125 strikeouts.

“He’s a free-swinger. He hacks away, but he’s trying to address it,” Radcliff said. “That aggression is part of his game. As he climbs the system, he’ll just have to learn not to let pitchers take advantage of that.”

— Phil Miller covers the Twins for the Minneapolis Star Tribune

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