Is Brett Wallace still a prospect?

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.

In addition to writing for The Hardball Times, Brian has written for FanGraphs, consulted for a Major League Baseball team and invented the Oliver projection system. Follow him on Twitter @blcartwright.
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11 years ago

Chris Johnson has .384 wOBA in 132 plate appearances this season.  I don’t think he’s going to be moved off third base until he stops hitting, nor should he be.  Sometimes fringy guys work out.

It’s far too early to write off Wallace as a first baseman.  Baseball America seems to think he’ll be a Billy Butler type player in the long run.

Braves Fan
11 years ago

Isn’t Chris Johnson the Astros 3B of the present and future? Plus 1B is now freed up with Berkman’s trade.

Brian Cartwright
11 years ago

Cut me some slack, Berkman was still a ‘Stro when I wrote that a few hours ago.

One of the points I was trying to illustrate is the differences in offensive levels between 1b and 3b. While Wallace would be a middle level third baseman, he’s on the bottom rung at first.

Oliver’s MLE wOBAs for Chris Johnson the past four seasons are 247, 293, 283 & 344 – 71 games at age 25 at anything above replacement level.

I can take Wallace at third. Having Chris Johnson there and Wallace at first is not a step towards a winning team.

Jeffrey Gross
11 years ago

Great article Brian. Putting my Quote to great use, LOL

11 years ago

I’ll cut some slack on the fact you didn’t know that Berkman was going to be traded, but peggin Keppinger at 3rd for this team only indicates your sloppy level of analysis.

you are heavily discounting the effect of multiple stops in the minors and are ignoring that the move to first should help his defense.  Move away from the sabremetrics and use your human eye.

he’s got plus speed in his bat swing, soft hands, a good eye and is just getting his chance to adjust to high level pitching.  His body is already strong enough to hit for good power numbers and he is still developing.

Brian Cartwright
11 years ago

I did err in putting together my final wrap-up paragraph, referring to Keppinger instead of Johnson as the Astros third baseman. I don’t believe that invalidates my analysis of Wallace.

As Wallace has been traded three times in the past twelve months, is he still a shiny prize in the window, or has this become an exercise in regifting? Looking at his history, and those of other players who performed for the same teams and leagues as Wallace, you can see that over the past two seasons he is walking less and striking out more, with softer contact, than he did before. Turning 24 in a few months, how much more will he develop, when he has been regressing for two seasons? I project him to hit 260-270, 15-20 HRs, 40-50 BB. That’s average at third base, but brought down by a bad glove. At first base, I can find at least 25 guys already in the major leagues who are better than that. Either place, he’s in the bottom half (or worse) of players at that position.

11 years ago

He can be worse than pretty much anyone at 3B. Wallace has very, very little mobility. Might as well play him at SS.

lisa gray
11 years ago


i understand where you are coming from with your stats analysis.

what really REALLY makes me worried is that the blue jays (supposedly a scoutsy Organization) preferred a singles hitting, no walking, lousy stealing, supposedly gold glove future CF A-ball guy to someone who is supposedly supposed to be a albert pujols-like hitter who is supposedly ML ready.

the guy has been traded THREE times in les than 1 year, and he was only drafted TWO years ago!!!

i know billy beane does trades like the rest of us grrrls change shoes, but he doesn’t exactly have any great 1B guys ready and he quickly dumped a guy he just GOT for someone else who is unproven and farther away from the majors.

we’ll see if the guy can hit anywheres else besides sacramento/vegas.

i don’t trust astros scouts – they are the ones who have insisted for 1 year that chris johnson couldn’t hit above AA and wasn’t any sort of prospect and that jason castro would hit like brian mccann…

Brian Cartwright
11 years ago

My opinion is that Alex A in Toronto saw that if Wallace only could play 1b or DH his bat wouldn’t be sufficient for the team to build on, so they got a projectable guy they liked.

11 years ago

“My opinion is that Alex A in Toronto saw that if Wallace only could play 1b or DH his bat wouldn’t be sufficient for the team to build on, so they got a projectable guy they liked.” – Brian Cartwright

Dude, that’s not an opinion, that’s “pure speculation”, so you don’t know who plays 3rd for the Astros and you don’t know what an opinion is….awesome job your doing here.