A few days ago, in my ongoing series of thorough A's player breakdowns, I looked at mega-prospect Chris Carter. But Carter isn't the only slugger on the Sacramento River Cats who has scouts and A's fans drooling about his potential.
Brett Wallace, the centerpiece of the Matt Holliday deal with the Cardinals, hit extremely well after joining the A's organization and seems like he could be a major factor in Oakland next year. Is the hype justified? Let's take a look.
Wallace, 23, hit well in his first full professional season after being drafted 13th overall by St. Louis in 2008. Beginning the season on the fast track at Double-A, he hit .281/.403/.438, showing excellent on-base skills and gap power, in 32 games.
He was quickly promoted to Triple-A, where his numbers declined to .293/.346/.423. While his batting average went up slightly, his power numbers fell off slightly and his K/BB ratio declined from approximately 2/1 to 3/1.
Then again, an average Triple-A performance less than a year after being drafted isn't too bad, is it?
I was slightly concerned about the lack of power (.130 ISO) and mediocre walk rate when the A's acquired Wallace from the Cardinals in late July. Switching organizations, Wallace alleviated the former concern, if not the latter, hitting .302/.365/.505. On a less positive note, his strikeout rate increased from 18.9% to 22.0% after the trade.
Overall, Wallace is a solid Triple-A hitter with emerging over-the-fence power (20 combined homers this year; 15 in 106 AAA games) and average on-base skills. He needs to get his walk rate back to the 12% range it sat in at Double-A this year to be a superstar. It sat in the 6-7% range in Triple-A.
Wallace offers little other than his hitting. I'll get to his defense in the scouting evaluation, but he has little speed to speak of, going 1-for-3 in steals this year and failing to get any triples.
At his present level, Wallace projects to be something like a .300/.360/.475 hitter, sort of like Brad Hawpe (if all parks were equal). However, he could add walks and become more of a Nick Johnson-style OBP asset, add power like Kendry Morales, or add both and become the next Kevin Youkilis. At 23 and with just over a year of pro experience, he has some development time left.
Wallace is seen as a natural-born hitter with a pretty, loose swing. He has a slightly funky setup at the plate that reminds me a little of Mo Vaughn, but it works for him.
Scouts generally echo the stats with Wallace's hitting. Some even go as far to say that he could be a future batting title winner, although he has to cut down on the strikeouts to get there. Others think he may reach the 30 HR mark at some point (I myself think 25 is a more realistic goal, but then again, we can never really know these things.
It seems like the scouts often praise Wallace more than the stats do; this could be due to Wallace being rushed to Triple-A. Perhaps, once his track slows down a bit, his numbers will improve to match the scouting reports: There was some evidence of this with his big August and September post-trade.
Defense is another matter entirely. Wallace, 6'2" 245 lbs., is built similarly to Tommy Everidge, and like his bulky counterpart, Wallace is thought of as a decent first baseman whose body makes third base a real stretch.
He is said to be fundamentally sound on the balls he gets to, but his body doesn't allow him to get to many, and his arm is nothing to write home about.
While the .300/.360/.475 line is above-average from third base (especially in contrast to Eric Chavez and Bobby Crosby's recent performance), it's only average-ish from a first baseman.
So, the big question: Do the A's keep Wallace at third and hope he improves on D and/or hits so well that the D stops mattering, or move him to first, block Barton and Everidge, and get an average offensive and defensive player for their troubles?
It's not an easy question, and it will be interesting to see what Beane and Co. do with Wallace over the offseason. Scouts seem to place his ceiling at the Miguel Cabrera (.330/.400/.550) level, but Wallace isn't really close to that yet, and like Cabrera, his bad body may move him down the defensive spectrum. We'll see.
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