I remember the first time I saw Brett Wallace at Minute Maid Park. I marveled at how big he was. His thighs alone told a tale of power hitting and I was eager to watch him hit the cover off the baseball. Wallace was originally drafted by the Cardinals as the 13th overall pick in the 2008 draft in part thanks to a guy named Jeff Luhnow.
It was merely coincidence that when Luhnow was offered the chance to steer the ship for an MLB team that Wallace would be in the mix with Luhnow’s new club. At that point, the corner infielder had seen his fair share of trades already; he was part of the package that the Cardinals sent to Oakland for Matt Holliday and then six months later the Athletics sent him to the Toronto Blue Jays for Michael Taylor. Fast forward another six months and Wallace was traded again, but this time to Houston where he’s remained since July 2010.
To say that Brett Wallace has struggled at the major league level is simply a fair statement. Despite dropping weight in the 2012 off season and working with hitting coaches, he built a reputation among fans for blasting balls in AAA and struggling in the big leagues...until now?
Wallace started this season with the major league club, but when it was obvious that he was once again struggling — beginning the season hitting .042 and striking out 17 times in a mere seven games — he was again shipped north to Oklahoma City.
I said that was it. I did, you can check my Twitter feed. I felt as if the Astros had given Wallace all the chances they would give him. I giggled along as other fans began calling Wallace "The Redhawks first baseman" rather than using his name. After all, in my mind he would remain in that role. But it seems I forgot two things when I decided Wallace was done. First, Jeff Luhnow is eerily right about baseball players at an alarming rate and he still believed in Wallace, and secondly, anything, yes, anything, can happen in baseball.
When Wallace went back to Oklahoma City he did what he usually does, he rediscovered his confidence and started hitting. In 59 games he managed an impressive .326 average and blasted homers 11 times. His OPS in OKC? .952. But those numbers aren’t that unusual for minor league Brett Wallace. The Astros, seeing the rise in confidence and numbers, called him back up to the bigs yet again.
It seems that the Houston Astros weren’t really done with Brett Wallace after all, and it just might be time for me to start thinking about cooking a crow pie.
Wallace has found himself back in the majors and is shocking even the most optimistic of Wallace supporters. In the 12 games since he returned he’s put together a string of successful plate appearances, hitting .262/.326/.619 in 42 at bats. The 3 home runs have elicited big responses from fans. His strike out rate has stayed a relatively consistent 28% since his return, while it was 29% in AAA. His numbers for walks suggest similar consistency. I always like to judge hitters by OPS (on base plus slugging), perhaps because it’s the most simplistic view of a hitter’s ability to drive runs and Brett’s since his return is sitting at an impressive .945. The best hitters in baseball are those with an OPS over .900.
But here’s the kicker. Brett Wallace might just be getting better. In the past, when Wallace would come back to the Astros from AAA he’d start off pretty well, but quickly find himself struggling again and several times fell into tragic hitting slumps. Something is different this time. It seems Brett Wallace just might have figured things out. I won’t call for anything above cautious optimism yet — there’s a lot of baseball that still needs to be played — but something feels different about Wallace this go-round.
In the most recent seven games he’s hitting .316 and that OPS? 1.224. Bring it, Brett. Prove me wrong. I will love every single minute of it.