2002 Eden Prairie graduate and former North Dakota State closer Neil Wagner played 12 seasons of professional baseball, including stints in the majors with Oakland and Toronto. In his prime, he possessed a 99-MPH fastball.
After three years at NDSU, Wagner was selected by Cleveland in the 21st round of the 2005 draft.
In May 2010, Cleveland traded him to Oakland for cash considerations. He made his major league debut with Oakland in Cleveland on August 30, 2011, and struck out the first batter he faced, Carlos Santana. After inducing a weak groundout for the second out, the first major league hit Wagner allowed was to fellow Minnesotan Jack Hannahan—a little grounder through the left side. It was the only baserunner he allowed in his one inning of relief.
He got into the game in Cleveland again the following night, this time pitching a 1-2-3 bottom of the 12th. (Cleveland won on a Jack Hannahan walk-off single, driving in Cord Phelps, who was pinch running for Hall of Famer Jim Thome.)
Wagner only pitched a total of five innings across six games with the Athletics.
He made it back to the majors with the Toronto Blue Jays in Atlanta on May 29, 2013—again getting off to a good start, this time striking out the first two batters he faced in a 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh. He faced the minimum again in his second inning of work, giving up a single to Jordan Schafer, but inducing a ground-ball double play from Andrelton Simmons.
Wagner made a total of 36 relief appearances with the Blue Jays in 2013, and 10 more at the major-league level in 2014 before undergoing Tommy John surgery on August 19. He was released on September 2.
He subsequently spent time in the Rays and Mets organizations before having a rough final pro season in Japan in 2018.
I’m always interested in how Minnesotan major leaguers did against the Minnesota Twins. Wagner made four appearances against the Twins, pitching three scoreless innings, holding them to 1-for-11 (.091). Chris Colabello hit a seventh-inning double for the Twins’ only hit off Wagner in the second game of an absolutely frigid doubleheader at Target Field on April 17, 2014. The next inning, Blue Jays pitchers (frozen fingers, no doubt) combined to give up six runs on eight walks and just one it.
Wagner, who is by all accounts a voracious reader, chronicled his experiences as a minor-league journeyman in a series of blog posts for MLB.com in 2011. Later in his career, he became a mentor for young pitchers on their way up to “The Show.” According to his LinkedIn page, despite being one year shy of a science degree from North Dakota State (he studied biology and chemistry), Wagner went back to school for accounting, graduating from Jame Madison University in Virginia in 2021. He is currently a tax associate at a firm in Middleburg, Virginia.
If you have any fun facts or cool stories about Neil Wagner, please contribute them in the comments section below.