ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Friday night in Eastlake, Ohio, Max Walla showed a glimpse of the talent that led the Milwaukee Brewers to select him in the second round of the 2009 draft.
Showing the ability that fans in Albuquerque remember, Walla went 4-for-7, homered twice and drove in three runs in Class-A Wisconsin’s extra-inning loss to Lake County. For Walla, Friday’s performance was just another sign that the 21-year-old outfielder is getting comfortable with playing professional baseball.
“I’ve had a few speed bumps so far, but it’s going pretty well,” Walla said. “I’m definitely making strides and getting better.”
Among those speed bumps was a broken finger that delayed his Class-A debut and possibly led to some of his early struggles this year. But after hitting .238 in the first half of the season, Walla is healthy and hitting .297 in July. His two home runs Friday matched his total during the first three months of the season. Walla, who had 19 RBIs and nine extra-base hits in his first 52 games, has driven in 10 runs and has five extra-base hits in the 16 games since the All-Star break.
“Hopefully I can bring my average up. Anything over .270 would be great,” Walla said. “I’m just trying to get better and hopefully hit for some power.”
Walla is not only getting comfortable at the plate and in the field, he’s also getting accustomed to the grind of minor league baseball.
“You basically get one off day a month. When you mix in road trips with that, it’s hard,” Walla said. “We just had a nine-hour bus ride the other morning and then played a game. It’s definitely easy to get caught up in how fast it goes. The first half of the season flew by. You just have to try to catch your breath every once in a while.”
Walla was drafted out of Albuquerque Academy and signed with the Brewers. He had signed a letter of intent to play at Oklahoma State, but the Brewers made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. In addition to a $499,000 signing bonus, the Brewers gave Walla the chance to still pursue an education and college degree when his playing days come to an end.
“For me, it wasn’t really that tough of a decision (to sign),” Walla said. “All the scouts come through and they ask what you’ll sign for and what you’re signability is like, so they know what to expect. For me, it was more about a team willing to put an investment in me and take a chance on me. I wanted to hit with a wood bat as soon as possible. Overall, it was a pretty good decision for me. They took me where I wanted to go and gave me an opportunity.
“The biggest thing for me was they offered to pay for school when I’m done with baseball. On top of my bonus, if I go to school within two years of not playing anymore they’ll pay for it.”
Of course, Walla hopes his playing days continue for a long while. And while reaching the majors is obviously his goal, Walla is enjoying his time riding buses across the Midwest and working on his game.
“You never know when they’re going to call you up so you just have to keep playing and trying to get better,” Walla said. “You just need to focus on an immediate goal and stay focused on the here and now. I’m just going to play as long as I can and as hard as I can. Baseball is the same game no matter where you play it. I just want to keep playing the game the right way.”
— This article appeared on page D2 of the Albuquerque Journal