Two years ago, the Cardinals selected Brett Wallace with the 13th pick in the first round, as a third baseman out of Arizona State. The word was that although he had a major league bat, his defense would necessitate an eventual move to first base.
Wallace did indeed rake in college, compiling .404/.481/.687 and .410/.525/.753 lines in his sophomore and junior seasons. He signed quickly, playing for the Cards’ High-A and Double-A teams, and in the Arizona Fall League, posting 400+ wOBAs at each stop, with 14 homers and 60 RBI in 78 pro games.
Oliver translates his 2007 college season at .310/.382/.481, and his 2008 season split between college and the pros at .283/.370/.447. A 360-370 wOBA at third base would rank around sixth or seventh in the majors, in the neighborhood of Ryan Zimmerman, Mark Reynolds and Pablo Sandoval. Even with a reputation of a bad glove, he looked like a quality prospect.
He was such a good prospect that Oakland received him as part of the trade that sent Matt Holliday to the Cards in July of 2009. Then in November the A’s flipped him to Toronto for Michael Taylor, whom they had just obtained from the Phillies in the Roy Halladay deal. Now yesterday, in another deadline deal, Wallace goes from the Blue Jays to Houston, which prompts the question on the THT listserve “Can anyone explain to me why the Jays traded Brett Wallace, who is doing quite well in the minors this season, for a guy who can’t even post a .700 OPS in A-ball??”
Well, actually Anthony Gose has a .710 OPS in A-ball, but the point is made. What happened to Wallace?
In 2009, Wallace hit .293/.346/.423 at Memphis (S. Louis), ..302/365/.506 for Sacramento (Oakland) and so far in 2010 .301/.359/.509 for Las Vegas (Toronto). Those all look good, right? Except that all three teams are in the hit-happy Pacific Coast League, which features four teams (Colorado Springs, Salt Lake, Reno, Albuquerque) at Coors Field-like elevations of 4,000 feet or higher, three of those in the Pacific Conference with Sacramento and Las Vegas.
Running Wallace’s last four season through Oliver’s calculator gives us:
Year Level wOBA BA OB SA ISO BB% SO% Fld 2007 Coll 376 310/382/481 171 095 165 2008 AA 361 283/370/447 164 095 210 -2 2009 AAA 308 254/319/370 116 065 235 -14 2010 AAA 289 231/284/372 141 051 251 -6
His 2010 walk rate is half what it was in 2008, while the strikeouts edge up and the power has fallen.
Not having completely forgotten his better years, and factoring in the Juice Box if he’s promoted, Oliver gives Wallace’s current projection at .265/.335/.428, for a 335 wOBA. If Wallace were still playing third base, this would put his bat in the range of Jorge Cantu, Casey Blake or Edwin Encarnacion. Okay not great, but middle range, 15th to 20th best. (To follow along at home, go to THT Forecasts Sortable Batting, highlight both “All Positions” for Pos and “MLB” for Class, submit, then select Oliver Forecast and click on the wOBA heading to sort by that column.)
The bad news is Wallace is no longer waving at balls at the hot corner (-14 runs in 2009), playing all of 2010 at first base. Oliver’s Sortable Batting would rank Wallace among the 25th to 30th best at that position, similar to guys like Ty Wigginton and Lyle Overbay.
My advice to the Astros: You aren’t playing for the pennant this year, so promote Wallace now and stick him back at third. He has to be better than Jeff Keppinger. Even though Oliver rates Wallace’s defense at third at -14 runs in 2009, it was only -2 in 2008. I can live with that. Two major league players in return for Roy Oswalt might go down better with the fans.