Howdy, all you happenin cats and kitties out there in Future Redbirds land. You probably all know me already, from my other gigs, but I’ve got a serious thing for the minor leagues and I rarely get to write about them, so Mr. Erik Manning was nice enough to offer me a platform from which to do so. I’m not going to be a regular contributor around here, just an occasional guest star sort of situation. Hopefully I can add a little something and not gum up the works too very badly. Thanks to erik for the invite; I’m excited to be on board.
Anyway, back when all the draft talk was still purely hypothetical, fewgoodcards, this site’s resident draft and college baseball expert, and I debated the merits of Brett Wallace, who of course eventually became the Cards’ pick in the first round. FGC was very high on Wallace, believing that he had as good a chance of becoming a major leaguer as anyone in the draft; I wasn’t a fan, believing that a draft pick as high as the one the Cards had this year should be spent on a more athletic player, a pure ceiling sort of talent. After watching the Super Regionals of the CWS and seeing Wallace play for Arizona State, I have to admit I’m coming around on the Walrus. Let’s take a look at what Mr. Wallace brings to the table, shall we?
Any discussion of Brett Wallace absolutely has to begin, obviously, with his bat. He was essentially drafted to play the position of hitter, after all. So, just how good a bat is it?
For my money, Brett Wallace was probably the single best hitter in the entire draft class. I felt that way even before he was drafted, just looking at his numbers, and the more I’ve seen the more I’ve become convinced that’s the case. Just to be clear, I include Pedro Alvarez, who went second overall to the Pirates, in that assessment as well. I think Wallace’s plate approach and swing path are both better than Alvarez’s, though Alvarez may have a tad more power. Why exactly Wallace wasn’t included in the sort of ‘group of four’ we saw in the draft this year of outstanding hitters, (Alvarez, Yonder Alonso, Justin Smoak, and Eric Hosmer) is beyond me.
Watching Wallace play in the CWS, I paid particular attention to his setup and swing path, trying to see if they look like they’ll translate to the pro game. I have to say, I don’t see him having any trouble whatsoever moving from metal bats to wood. His stroke is already short and direct, with none of the length and ‘grooved’ qualities you often see from college hitters. His setup, to me, is reminiscent of several great lefthanded sluggers, but none quite so much as another Arizona State alumnus, Barry Lamar Bonds. Both set up hanging right out over the plate, daring pitchers to try and throw the ball past them on the inside. Both have high hand positions, with short, quick twitch timing mechanisms. While watching Wallace, I was also struck by one last similarity that really surprised me. Wallace, much like Bonds, appears to choke up on the bat about an inch or so. I saw him do it each time the ESPN cameras cut to him as he was preparing to step in to the box. I can’t find a picture that confirms this, and unfortunately my DVR got erased during a recent electrical storm, so I can’t do a screen capture or anything to show it. If anybody out there happens to have visual proof of Wallace choking up on the bat, I would appreciate some assistance. I’m curious to see if this is a long term habit of his or something more recent. I hadn’t really seen too very much of Wallace firsthand before this year’s CWS, so I don’t know one way or the other. Choking up on the bat like that is quite unusual for a power hitter, who mostly try to get complete extension in their swings. It does, however, allow the hitter to get around more easily on inside pitches, making that right over the plate setup much more effective.
The swings of Mr. Wallace and Mr. Bonds continue to be similar through the swing path. The swings of both are very short through the ball, and both come from the inside of the midline. Both are also a bit more level than you would ordinarily expect from a power hitter, without the exaggerated backward tilt and uppercut swing path you see from players like Kyle Russell and his ilk. Wallace’s swing is geared more for line drive contact, but he has the bat speed and strength that plenty of those line drives are going to leave the park, especially the ones he gets under just the slightest little bit.
On the plate discipline side, Wallace is well advanced for a collegiate hitter. He was regularly pitched around in the Fresno State series, and for the most part, Wallace refused to expand his zone, taking his walks and waiting for pitches he could hit hard. He rarely got himself out on pitcher’s pitches, even though he was struggling a bit at the plate at the time. I can easily see Wallace posting an OBP in the .380-.400 range as a pro. He has excellent plate coverage, allowing him to foul off pitches he cannot do much with, thus extending at bats.
Enough about Wallace’s offense, though. We all know he’s going to hit. What about his glove? That’s always been the knock on him, that his defense and lack of athleticism is going to limit him to first base as a pro. After seeing Wallace play at third, I’m still unsure as to whether or not he’ll stick there long term.
He did make one outstanding play against Fresno that showed off his arm, at the very least. On a hard chopper down the line, Wallace ranged hard to his right, his momentum carrying him well into foul territory. He backhanded the ball, spun, and threw off balance, nicking the runner at first by a step.
I think that Wallace does have the feet to play third base. He’s much more nimble than you would think by looking at him, and he’s got the quickness and reflexes to play the hot corner. His hands are above average, and while he has awkward throwing mechanics, dropping down to throw, his arm appears strong enough to make the plays. The way he throws reminds me of Troy Glaus a little bit, actually. Both do that sort of sidearm flip of the ball, rather than coming over the top the way Scott Rolen always did. The lower angle could cause Wallace’s throws to tail toward his arm side, but I don’t think it should be a long term issue. He should be able to make the adjustment, I’m sure.
The only real concern I have about Wallace at third is his range. Third base is much more of a reaction position than a range position, but I still worry that Wallace’s lateral range isn’t sufficient to play there. In particular, there were a few balls to his left that I thought he would be able to get to that he didn’t, though I couldn’t tell where he was positioned prior to the play, so take that with a grain of salt. He also does a funny little hop oftentimes after he catches a ball, in order to get himself into position to throw. I assume that’s the sort of thing that can be worked on with proper coaching, but for now it has to be a bit of a negative. He ends up taking longer than necessary to release the ball, rather than just setting himself and throwing.
In the grand scheme of things, I still worry about Wallace’s ability to play at third base, but not as much as I did before I saw him play there. He has the quickness, hands, and arm to do it, but the range still seems a bit fringy. I think that how well Wallace is able to cover third may end up having at least something to do with who ends up playing next to him, at shortstop. With an above average defender at short, Wallace’s less than impressive range should be able to be covered. If the Cards end up with a player like David Eckstein playing shortstop again, though, the left side of the infield could very well become an issue. Wallace will definitely make the plays on the balls he gets to, but the Cardinals will need a player with good range next to him to make the left side of the infield suitably solid.
Alright, how about some grades? Present/Future
Hit for Average: 55/60
Plate Discipline: 55/65
I honestly think that Wallace could come straight to the big leagues and hit .250 right now. He would also hit for just enough power that pitchers couldn’t just lay the ball down the middle, so his OBP would be alright. Of course, he’ll be far better off with a couple years of seasoning, but he’s extremely advanced already.
Fielding- Hands: 50/50
As I said before, I think Wallace has the arm and hands to become an average defender at third base. His range is what really concerns me. He appears to move better to his right than his left, but I base that only on a very limited sampling of what I saw him do. I give him a lower grade on his arm because of the slow release. If he can correct that as he develops in the minors, I think his arm may end up being a slight plus. If not, his throwing will be a definite concern at a position that requires a player to rely so much on being able to gun a runner down at times.
The future for Wallace is still very much based on what he ends up doing with his glove. If he sticks at third base, he could be one of the biggest steals in the entire draft. His bat at the hot corner would make him an All Star with even just adequate defense. If he ends up having to move off, though, his value drops greatly. I think he’ll hit enough to be an above average player even at first or DH, but he has limited value to the Cardinals in that role. Even as trade bait, though, Wallace will most likely turn out to be a solid value pick. He still wouldn’t have been my choice, to be perfectly honest. I wanted Odorizzi or a guy like Brett Lawrie, maybe Melville. After watching Wallace play, though, I think he’ll end up being a solid pick. The Cards went heavy on value early in this year’s draft, and Wallace is no exception. He’s riskier than everyone thinks, because there are significant questions about what he’ll become, but even if he falls short of his ultimate upside the Cards should be able to squeeze something worthwhile, if only in a Daric Barton sort of way.
As I said, he’s not exactly my cup of tea, but he could end up being a great pick. I’m going to have to hand it to Luhnow and company here; they could have done much, much worse than to pick Wallace.