Posted by: mdegeorge | August 8, 2010

Follow the bouncing Brett

“Wallace was the best pure hitter in [the 2008] draft…His bat is so special that if he can improve to just a win below average at third, he’ll be a star. He makes hitting look easy — he hits lefties (.387/.479/.484 in 62 at bats last year) and righties, all pitches, all areas of the zone, whatever’s thrown at him — and has pull power to right and doubles power the other way.”

“He has a short, powerful stroke from the left side that should produce for both average and power down the line, along with an advanced approach at the plate that really sets him apart.”

“His unbelievable plate discipline will undoubtedly be attractive to some teams…He could be the kind of Major Leaguer who hits .300 with 25 homers and a high OBP annually.”

It’s highly doubtful any of the myriad lauders of Brett Wallace foresaw the kind of opening to his professional baseball career that has sent him bouncing around Major League Baseball farm systems like a beach ball at a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert.

[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=brett+wallace&iid=5360165″ src=”http://view2.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/5360165/all-star-futures-game/all-star-futures-game.jpg?size=500&imageId=5360165″ width=”500″ height=”320″ /]

And now, just six games into his MLB career, the makings of a CV that most expected to read like those of Matt Williams or Jeff Bagwell now bears more resemblance to Shawon Dunston’s.

Wallace was highly regarded out of Arizona State after winning the Pac-10 Triple Crown his last two seasons as a Sun Devil and garnering the conference’s 2007 Player of the Year honor. The Cardinals’ selection of Wallace with the 13th overall pick in the 2008 Draft was widely hailed despite the obvious work required to mold the third baseman’s exceptional talent into a transferrable set of big league skills.But he proved to be the odd man out in the Cardinals’ infield carousel with the organization opting to affix the label of “third baseman of the future” on the head of David Freese. With a decent first base option already secured in that Albert guy, Wallace’s value to the Redbirds was as trade fodder.

His performances in the minors only reinforced that, as he blew advanced to Triple-A in after just 320 at bats at the lower levels, including a .337 average and .957 OBP in 54 games split between Single-A and Double-A ball in 2008. His struggles came mostly in the field, where as a third baseman he severely lacked lateral range and managed a paltry .943 fielding percentage on the balls he did get too.

Wallace’s first move came in the Matt Holliday deal as the headliner of a package of prospects headed to Oakland for the All-Star outfielder. Oakland seemed a logical location for the budding star as a cash-strapped organization always vigilant for low-cost, high-return players. He batted .302 in 44 games with the A’s Triple-A affiliate in Sacramento, belting nine home runs and knocking in 28 runs.

But the California honeymoon was short-lived, as just six months later he was shipped off to Toronto for Michael Taylor, a young minor league outfield prospect who had just been shipped north of the border by Philadelphia as part of the Roy Halladay trade.

Taylor, now the second-highest rated prospect in the Athletics’ system, helps plug a stark dearth of outfield talent in the A’s system. Their numbers are eerily similar (Taylor progressed more deliberately through the minors, including a stint in short-season A ball in the New York-Penn League) with Wallace boasting a career BA/OBP/SLG of .304/.375/.487 in 1119 ABs to Taylor’s .302/.375/.487 in 1505 ABs. But the positional issue (though the A’s haven’t got much in the way of infield prospects either) coupled with Taylor’s higher walk percentage and lower strikeout percentage probably made him the more appealing choice.

Toronto also seemed a decent home for him in a franchise looking for a steady answer at the hot corner since the days of Kelly Gruber and Rance Mulliniks.

That plan, though, was also derailed. It wasn’t Wallace’s fault, as his .301 average, 18 homers, and 61 RBI in 95 games at Triple-A attest. But the Jays’ Moneyball-inspired brass deemed him expendable again, moving him in the shadow of the Roy Oswalt deal to Houston for the ’Stros’ newly acquired outfielder Anthony Gose, a high-A player still two days from his 20th birthday.

It now appears Wallace has found a Major League home in the rebuilding phase of Houston’s overhaul which counts Lance Berkman and Oswalt among its demolition victims. The Astros’ willingness to root him at first base minimizes his defensive liability. While Minute Maid Park’s dimensions don’t favor left-handed power hitters, Wallace should prosper with his power to the opposite field aiming at the comically short left-field porch and his ability to exploit the spacious alleys to stockpile doubles by the bunches. His stocky build should be idolized in the fattest city in America, one that’s always maintained a fondness for stocky first-baggers.

It certainly been a more circuitous route than anyone expect, but with a talent that’s fairly undeniable—regardless of the utilities of a division’s worth of MLB general managers—there’s more for Wallace and his bat to write.

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