The James Click front office had limited draft resources in their first two years on the job, but that didn’t stop them from continuing the club’s trend of finding solid roster-filling options with low initial investments. Among the best examples so far are 2020 undrafted free agent signing Justin Dirden, who has rapidly hit his way up the ladder this season, and utility infielder Will Wagner, son of former Astros closer Billy, who has performed like a future big leaguer since being drafted in 2021’s 15th round. Despite his elite bloodlines, Will has remained under the radar for much of his amateur and pro career, but that is starting to change with his continued strong performance.
A member of the 2017 prep class, Wagner was a well regarded but not highly coveted prospect out of Virginia who projected as a solid but unspectacular college player in the eyes of most. He has never been a standout athlete which tempered projections, but a solid defensive acumen on the infield and impressive hitting skills were strong enough that he had little trouble securing D1 offers. He ended up committing to Liberty, and put together two seasons as a full time starter, plus a handful of additional starts his freshman year and the shortened 2020. He was one of the tougher outs in the A-Sun in each of those campaigns, posting a .382 OBP as a 20 year old sophomore in 2019 a .399 as a fourth year junior in 2021, while also boosting his slugging percentage from .444 to .538.
The high level production generated some real pro interest for Wagner, but he was still contending with questions about his athleticism, and COVID forcing him to stick around for four years made him an older prospect by draft day 2021, so he remained available into mid day three, when the Astros finally called his name. Houston was a logical destination, and not just because of his father’s success there- despite not lighting up stopwatches or radar guns, Will was able to demonstrate some defensive versatility by playing both second and third base in college, and his plate discipline numbers were in elite territory, so he checked a lot of typical Astros boxes.
Having been 22 years old on draft day, the clock was ticking for Wagner more or less right away, so the Astros wasted no time in getting him onto a pro field with Low-A Fayetteville later that summer. There, Wagner continued to demonstrate top flight command of the strike zone, hitting .299/.388/.436 with 5 steals in as many attempts in a 31 game taste. His strong performance gave the Astros enough confidence to push him immediately to High-A Asheville to begin 2022, where he was able to maintain his production with a .276/.392/.405 slash in 199 PAs. His power production continued to be limited, but with a 32/41 BB/K ratio he continued to look like a very polished hitter.
With just 76 total minor league games under his belt, the Astros went ahead and pushed Wagner to Double-A in early June. It understandably took him a bit of time to find footing following the promotion- he was under the Mendoza line for much of the rest of the month- but his production has gradually improved since early July, to the point that his slash through 63 games is now a very respectable .258/.372/.387. Wagner maybe 24 years old now, but given his experience level, it’s difficult to take much issue with what he has done at the Double-A level so far. There were concerns that Wagner’s below average bat speed could make him susceptible to velocity in the upper minors, but so far he has proven that his movements are efficient enough to make things work at the plate.
Nobody would deny that Wagner has limitations in his game- his power is mostly to the gaps with the occasional pull side shot, but left handed hitters who control the zone like he does don’t grow on trees, especially ones who can handle multiple infield positions to boot. The rare package of skills that he can provide make him one of the likelier major leaguers in the system after the top tier in my estimation, even though he’s unlikely to ever rank especially close to the top of the system.