Wallace confidently handling the heat
A look at Cardinals' prospects in the Arizona Fall League
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- 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.
LHP Justin Fiske had a strong regular season, pitching at three different levels, spending the bulk of his time with Springfield. He was 4-0 with a 2.97 ERA in 26 Texas League games (10 starts) and overall had a 3.26 ERA and a save in 40 appearances. Fiske was 4-0 with a 2.81 ERA in those starts at Springfield. He's 6-0 in 55 career appearances after being plucked from an independent league team and has continued to pitch well in Arizona. Though he's lost a game for the Scorpions, he has a 3.00 ERA in six innings and hadn't allowed an earned run in his last four outings heading into this week.
LHP Brad Furnish went 9-9 during the regular season, the majority of which he spent in Palm Beach. He went 8-8 in the Florida State League, posting a 5.17 ERA in 25 games (20 starts). He pitched much better in the Texas League, where he was 1-1 with a 1.64 ERA in four starts. The carry over has not been there, though, in the AFL. Furnish had appeared in eight games heading into the week and had a 10.97 ERA in 10 2/3 innings over that stretch.
LHP Tyler Norrick made only six starts this season at Memphis and Palm Beach, going 1-3 with a 6.04 ERA. Tendinitis and a shoulder strain were the culprits in stealing much of his season, but he's attempting to work his way back in the AFL. He had a 7.59 ERA through nine appearances but didn't allow an earned run in the last two, which included a scoreless inning on Monday.
RHP Adam Ottavino struggled through the regular season with Springfield, going 3-7 with a 5.23 ERA in 24 starts. He had several issues with which he was dealing, including a bout of shoulder inflammation that landed him on the DL early in the year. Though he's 2-1 through five AFL appearances, he has a 5.27 ERA after allowing 16 hits and five walks in 13 2/3 innings.
C Steven Hill was all over the map during the regular season, playing at three different levels and at multiple positions for the Cards. He topped out with a 26-game Texas League stint in May and June that saw him hit .303 with five homers and nine RBIs. But he landed on the disabled list with broken fingers on his left hand and was back in Florida when he was ready to play. He's seen a great deal of movement in the AFL as well, despite being a taxi-squad player. Hill has caught, played left field and been a designated hitter.
"He had a very nice offensive year," Vuch said. "He's a guy who, offensively, has been pretty solid for us. He's shown an ability to handle himself behind the plate. He's played the outfield and first base, but the fact that he can catch is a big thing.
"It's important for him to spend time behind the plate next year. If he's capable of handling the position back there, his bat can really be an asset compared to other top catchers. Playing on the taxi squad in Arizona has cut some into his time but he's done a nice job.
Hill was hitting .276 with a homer and five RBIs through 29 AFL at-bats.
SS Tyler Greene has slowly snaked his way up the Cardinals' organizational ladder since they made him a first-round pick in 2005. He finally reached Triple-A this season, spending 30 games with Memphis. While his career batting average of .254 won't catch the eye of many, he's proven to be a solid player whom the Cardinals like a great deal.
"He really made some big strides this year at Double-A and finishing the year at Triple-A," Vuch said. "He's always had the tools and the physical ability. In his case, it was just a matter of him being more consistent. This year consistency was a big thing for him and he applied his ability on a more consistent basis.
"There's nothing specific, it's just an all-around thing. He's always shown flashes at times of having that outstanding ability. But this year he showed it more frequently. He cut down on his mistakes and was more well rounded. It was a big part for him and it showed that he belongs."
Greene was hitting .333 with two homers and nine RBIs through 48 at-bats and had hit safely in seven games heading into Tuesday's action.
OF Shane Robinson spent much of 2007 on the disabled list because of a broken foot but returned with a vengeance this season, beginning the year by hitting .352 through 63 games in the Texas League. He got bumped up to the PCL but once again spent much of the second half on the disabled list. Robinson was hitting .254 with two homers and 15 RBIs through 63 AFL at-bats.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.