Brett Wallace fell to the Cardinals at the 13th overall pick in the 2008 draft. Regarded by some as the best pure college bat in the draft, the Cardinals couldn’t pass up the opportunity to draft an impact player of that caliber despite having the games best player at Wallace’s likely position.
2008 and his professional league debut went quite well. Wallace posted OBPs over .400 at Quad Cities and, following a jump past Palm Beach, at Springfield. He showed power as well hitting 8 HRs in 225 PAs (roughly the equivalent of 25 HR power over the course of a season) and the ability to hit for average.
His numbers were aided by very high BABIPs at both stops in 2008. There was some luck involved as his line drive rate at Springfield was an abysmal 10% but we’re talking about 57 PAs so the sample size is far to dubious to say anything more than you wouldn’t want to extrapolate that performance forward; it speaks little toward his true talent level.
In 2009, Wallace returned to Springfield to get more work at 3rd base defensively. With what was at one point a stacked position for the organization (Joe Mather got time at 3rd, David Freese and Allen Craig were both in Memphis), there was ample time to make sure that Wallace adjusted defensively. A better question may have been whether he adjusted offensively. His ISO was lower than either QC or Springfield in 2008 and he was striking out more (though not a great deal more nor at an alarming clip). His line drive rates rebounded to excellent levels over 25% and the idea was being floated that he was being pitched around.
There’s nothing about his 2009 line at Springfield that should alarm you. He posted an OPS over .850, by all accounts he’s the same hitter he was at draft time, he was walking and his power hadn’t completely dissappeared. For the top college hitter in the draft though, it all seems like damning with faint praise. By the same token as nothing alarming you, there’s little cause for excitment either.
Wallace’s promotion to Memphis was premature, in my opinion. The organization has been aggressive with it’s promotions but that was largely in an effort to flush out the dregs of the system. When David Freese got hurt, they had another 3B on the roster in Allen Craig. Even if they don’t think he’s a MLB caliber 3B defensively, there was little harm in playing him there to have his bat in the lineup and allow another one of the seemingly endless outfielders take over LF. Instead Wallace was sent up and the results haven’t been pretty. With a .606 OPS, he’s struggled mightly. The walks have fallen precipitously, the power has vanished and he’s seemingly lost his way offensively.
With 123 PAs in Memphis, we’re getting to the point of prolonged slump. This shouldn’t effect your long term opinion of Wallace yet but it might plant a seed of doubt somewhere. We traded another highly touted offensive giant with questionable defense not to long ago. Daric Barton has never realized his potential in Oakland and it’s not impossible that Wallace could suffer a similar malaise.
I’d suggest Brett Wallace do everything he can (and I’m sure he already is) to get things back on track in a hurry. For one, he’s got a golden opportunity to secure the 2010 3rd base job by playing out a strong season in Memphis. The injury to Freese and the (still perplexing) move of Craig to the outfield combined with the imminent departure of Glaus sets the stage nicely for Wallace to move up to the bigs. Luhnow and Mozeliak obviously want to see him in St. Louis and see him be an impact bat.
Wallace has got to earn it though. He’s got to show that the bat is real. That he can hold a high OBP and hit for power. That he can overcome his defensive shortcomings (which are many) with a potent offensive contribution.
Lower down on his priority list (but maybe still important — who knows) is that Wallace has to earn being called the Cardinals top prospect. With Colby Rasmus in the big leauges, the Cardinals will have their first new top prospect in 4 years and Wallace isn’t a shoe in for the spot. With Daryl Jones having another very solid season, the speedy outfielder offers a more complete package than Wallace and could assume the mantle. For those evaluators looking for upside, the signing of Shelby Miller would offer another opportunity to crown a new top prospect to hold the title in Rasmus’s departure.
The simple story is that Wallace is having a tough time of it in Memphis. He’s not going to have his next promotion handed to him though. And he’s got to step it up to be the top prospect. Earn it, Brett Wallace, earn it.