Wagner chasing history, raising draft stock

Wagner chasing history, raising draft stock

Baseball

Wagner chasing history, raising draft stock

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Clemson’s baseball team kept its NCAA Tournament hopes alive with a sweep of Boston College over the weekend to clinch its spot in the ACC Tournament, but Max Wagner’s breakout season at the plate has made for another postseason storyline worth following for the Tigers.

Wagner maintained his power stroke against the Eagles, going 5-for-12 with five RBIs in the series to bring his team-leading batting average to .379 on the season. That included two more home runs for the ACC’s newly minted player of the year, giving him 26 for the season.

That’s tied for the second-most in the country, and it puts Wagner within one swing of history entering the postseason. Clemson’s slugging third baseman is one homer shy of tying the school record for the most home runs in a season set by Khalil Greene in 2002. And with at least two games left in the Tigers’ season – Clemson opens ACC Tournament play Tuesday against North Carolina before playing top-seeded Virginia Tech on Thursday – holding the record outright isn’t a far-fetched scenario for Wagner once it’s all said and done.

Wagner is averaging a home run every 7.5 at-bats, but for someone who hit 12 homers in a 14-game stretch earlier this season, the long ball has come even more frequently at times. He homered in the series opener against Boston College on Thursday before doing so again Friday as Clemson outscored the Eagles 26-3 in the series.

Wagner said he hasn’t really thought about catching one of the best players to ever don a Clemson uniform atop the program’s home run list, though he knows exactly where he stands. He’s more worried about trying to help the Tigers avoid missing out on the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year, which may require at least one win this week in Charlotte.

“It’s just the hard work I’ve been able to put in pretty much ever since I got here my freshman year,” Wagner said. “All the experience I’ve been able to take since my freshman year has really helped me get to this point. Just still trying to keep working, trying to get better and trying to get this team in the right direction.”

Now a draft-eligible sophomore, Wagner’s season has also caught the eye of plenty of scouts at the next level. Major League Baseball’s first-year player draft is just two months away, and Wagner’s stock is rapidly rising. Keith Law, MLB writer and draft analyst for The Athletic, even has Wagner projected as a first-round pick.

“Wagner changed his swing after an underwhelming freshman year for Clemson, and now the draft-eligible sophomore is destroying fastballs with plus-plus power to his pull side and shows solid command of the strike zone, although his defense at third isn’t great and he might end up in an outfield corner (position),” Law wrote of Wagner is his latest mock draft.

But that can wait. Wagner’s focus at the moment is on doing his part to help Clemson extend what could very well be his final season in a Tiger uniform.

“Just focused and determined to get my pregame work in and getting ready for that, and then obviously when the game comes, just being ready for every pitch and letting my game play take care of itself,” Wagner said.

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