Baseball: Wagner sees a bright future

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 13, 2011

By Mike London
Chicago White Sox prospect Daniel Wagner heads into a new baseball season armed with confidence and superior vision.
After offseason LASIK surgery, the 22-year-old second baseman can read the bottom line on the eye chart, a row that used to look like a series of tiny dots.
“I was kind of nervous about having the eye surgery,” Wagner said. “And for a week or so my vision was still fluctuating between clear and blurry. But by the second week, it had settled on the clear side, and now it’s unbelievable. It’s perfect.”
Wagner’s visual acuity is now 20/15 — better than normal. A contacts-wearer for years, he should be able to recognize pitches a split-second earlier and that should impact his batting average and elevate the number of walks he draws.
“The biggest issue with my eyes last year was dryness,” Wagner said. “I’d be up there blinking and trying to hit 90 mph fastballs.”
Wagner, who swings from the left side, has always had a smooth batting stroke.
He hit .392 as a senior at South Rowan High in 2006 and dominated with a .474 batting average, 10 homers, 56 RBIs and 26 steals for the South Rowan American Legion team in the summer of 2007.
He hit .320 in three seasons at Belmont University in Nashville and was drafted in the 16th round by the White Sox in 2009 following a junior year in which he slugged 10 homers and knocked in 57 runs.
Wagner batted .258 in his pro debut at Bristol in the summer of 2009.
Then he had the rare opportunity to play pro ball in his backyard in 2010 when he was the second baseman for the Kannapolis Intimidators. He grew up within sight of the lights at Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium.
Last summer, Wagner batted .272, played in the South Atlantic League All-Star Game and led the Intimidators with 70 runs scored. He tied for 11th in the South Atlantic League with 140 hits and was 10th in the league in steals with 37.
His steal total was one of the best in the White Sox organization and was a bit of a surprise. He stole only 16 bases in his high school career.
Wagner credits trainer Judd Granzow, who has worked with athletes such as Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams and Baltimore Ravens receiver Derrick Mason for helping him get quicker and faster.
“I’ve got pretty = good baserunning technique, and I had a chance to talk to (Chicago’s) Juan Pierre, a great basestealer and pick his brain a little bit ,” Wagner said. “I’ve learned a few things to look for as far as pitchers’ moves and I’ve learned the right counts and right situations to run.”
Wagner continues to make strides with his glove, and he’s proven he’s durable. The hot summer in the South Atlantic League was a grind, but he didn’t miss a single game due to injury.
“I did miss three games when I got sick with a virus, but I basically stayed healthy,” Wagner said. “I’m trying to mimic that same preseason preparation I had last season because being able to play a whole season without an injury is huge.”
Staying healthy helped Wagner put up nice numbers last season, and better vision could lead to better ones in 2011.
Spring Training will determine where he starts out.
He played well enough in Kannapolis to merit a promotion to high Class A ball in Winston-Salem, but the White Sox are deep in second basemen, starting with Gordon Beckham, a 24-year-old expected to open the season as the starter in Chicago.
“Hopefully, I’ll get to start out at Winston-Salem, but we’ll have to see how it goes,” Wagner said. “I just want to stay consistent, control the things I can control and keep improving.”