Nov. 5, 2008
By Kevin Czerwinski/MLB.com - If it seems like Brett Wallace is a bit more polished than the average first-year professional, well, that's only because he is. The Cardinals used the 13th pick in June's First-Year Player Draft on the former Arizona State star and if playing college ball in the desert taught Wallace one thing, it was how to handle the heat. It's difficult not to learn a thing or two while playing for the Sun Devils and their head coach Pat Murphy. ASU is a pipeline to professional ball and the bombastic Murphy is a master at dealing with the media attention his perennially top-ranked program brings. So should anyone be surprised that some of that savvy rubbed off on Wallace?
"ASU really prepares you for everything," Wallace said. "From a media standpoint ... the cameras, the scouts, everything. It all helps you get a thicker skin. When you get to pro ball, you can deal with it. Being there instills in you what you have to do and how you have to handle things."
Oh, and the folks at ASU also know a little something about recruiting top-flight talent and making them better ballplayers. Wallace, who is currently playing for the Peoria Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League, is a prime example. He made the transition from the PAC-10 to the pros with aplomb, hitting .337 in 202 combined at-bats in the Midwest and Texas Leagues.
Wallace, who hit .367 in 13 games for Double-A Springfield, also combined to hit eight homers and 36 RBIs. And if those numbers were a surprise to anyone, it doesn't appear as if it were shock to the folks in the St. Louis front office.
"He was a guy we knew was a polished offensive player," the Cardinals' director of Minor League operations, John Vuch, said. "We had expectations that he could move quickly. He tore up Quad Cities and then went to Springfield and helped the Double-A club. Our guys had seen him hit with wood at various times and we thought that his approach was going to work.
"There wasn't a lot of question about his being able to hit. There weren't a lot of questions with the bat. One of the things we wrestled with was sending him right to Quad Cities. But he was really the first guy in quite a long time, maybe since J.D. Drew, that got as high as Double-A in the year that he was drafted. Typically we tend to be a bit more conservative, but the feeling was that he was an advanced and polished hitter and there was no reason to keep him at the lower level."
Wallace simply laughed when it was suggested that he has made things look easy in the pros. He said it's all about confidence and up until now, he's had plenty of it. He said Murphy told him and every ASU freshman that they were going to play and make an impact. It helped Wallace begin to believe in himself.
"I just trust in my ability and my teammates," Wallace said. "When you do that, the game slows down a little bit. There are certain guys you see at the plate who have that all the time. When you believe in what you can do, you can take a step back and let things happen."
Wallace has been letting things happen for the Saguaros this fall. While his batting average has been a more modest .255, he does have 15 RBIs through 55 at-bats and racked up a four-hit, six-RBI game on Monday at Scottsdale.
He's also played a solid third base, committing only one error in 28 chances. Wallace committed six errors in 126 combined chances during the regular season.
"The thing we're more impressed with is the fact that he's been better than we expected defensively," Vuch said. "He has an unusual throwing motion, but he has arm strength. He doesn't look like your prototypical third baseman, but he has first-step quickness and his hands work. We knew he was going to hit, but the thing we're pleased about is what he's shown so far defensively."
Wallace says he just wants to go out, play third base and "have fun with it." He added that he would also be fine with playing left field, but that he feels comfortable at third base.
"I think a lot of people talk about whether I can do it," he said. "When it comes down to it, I can. I'm just going to relax and let my teammates help build me into who I will be. When you have fun and work hard, you just have to see what happens."
Spoken like someone who knows how to handle the heat.