ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In 2009, Max Walla put on a power display at Miller Park in a pre-draft workout that convinced the Milwaukee Brewers to select the Albuquerque Academy standout with the 73rd pick in that year’s draft.
Now, in the middle of his fifth season in the Brewers’ organization, Walla is suffering through a power outage.
As a senior at Academy, Walla hit 12 home runs, led the Chargers to the 4A state title and was named New Mexico High School Baseball Player of the Year. He finished his prep career with a then-state record 34 home runs.
The 5-foot-11 Walla followed that up by hitting several upper-deck homers that wowed the Milwaukee brass.
As a professional however, the left-handed hitting outfielder has been plagued by injuries and inconsistency.
Walla has hit just 15 home runs in 286 minor league games and has a batting average of .244 in 1,036 career at-bats. After injuries delayed the start of this season, Walla has not hit a homer in 91 at-bats with Class-A Wisconsin.
“It just hasn’t happened yet,” Walla, 22, said. “I’ve driven some balls into the gaps. I just haven’t quite gotten one over the fence. I’ll have a few by the end of the year, but right now it’s just one of those things where you’re going through a drought.”
Injuries have been a common theme throughout Walla’s professional career. In 2010, a broken left ring finger sidelined him. Then last year his Class-A debut was delayed when he broke his left index finger a week before spring training ended.
“It a little bit frustrating at times,” Walla said. “It’s one of those things that if you play a sport for a living, injuries are kind of unavoidable. But it has been a little bit frustrating to some degree. Nobody wants to sit on the sidelines, but it’s definitely helped me grow a lot. The adversity of having to go through an injury – both physically and mentally – it’s helped me quite a bit.”
More help came this spring, when he suffered two injuries before the end of training camp.
“I broke my hand in spring training and was out for three weeks,” Walla said. “My first game back in spring training was the last week and I re-broke it. So I had to stay out there an extra seven weeks.”
While injuries no doubt have played a role in his struggles in the pros, Walla – who says he’s a Christian first and a baseball player second – used his latest setbacks to spend some time with an old friend, Josh McAlister, a La Cueva grad who pitches for Arizona State.
“I was upset at the time but I was also blessed,” Walla said. “… It was good to at least have one of my best friends there to talk to, someone else who is a believer as well to remind how sometimes God works through adversity we go through on a day-to-day basis. So it was a good experience in that sense of it.”
Now with that experience behind him and a clean bill of health, Walla is focused on realizing the potential he showed at Academy and eventually getting out of Class A.
“I’m not where I want to be right now but I’m definitely working every day at getting better and being more productive for the team,” Walla said. “I think right now where I need to be is a reachable goal, and I’m definitely heading down the right path. It’s been a little bit of a challenge this year to get comfortable, both physically and mentally, but it’s something I should be able to do.
“I have just under half of the season left to work with, so I’m looking forward to making some noise with the bat and moving up the ranks here.”
Despite his struggles, Walla believes that his hard work will eventually pay off, and he’ll once again get a chance to hit home runs into the upper deck of Miller Park.
“I’ve been handicapped a little bit by injuries. Definitely not an excuse,” Walla said. “I want to be in the big leagues, but I realize it’s a process and I’m going to keep grinding every day to get there.”