Can Wallace Follow Braun and Longoria?

The St. Louis Cardinals' 2008 first-round pick, Brett Wallace, is on a similar career path to two top third basemen debuting in MLB the last two seasons, Ryan Braun and Evan Longoria. Can he continue in 2009 and challenge for the major league starting job in 2010?

With the St. Louis Cardinals playing out the final five games of their 2008 season, many in The Cardinal Nation are already thinking about 2009 and even 2010.


One of the most intriguing story lines to play out over the next two seasons will be at third base.


Ever since perennial Gold Glove Award winner Scott Rolen was acquired from Philadelphia at the 2002 trade deadline and quickly signed an eight-year extension, the hot corner was cemented into a position of long-term stability for the Cardinals.


Yet, as Rolen's injuries mounted as well as his frustration with his medical care and relationships with club officials deteriorated to the point he requested a trade, Rolen and his hefty contract through 2010 were shipped north of the border in January of this year.


In return, the Cardinals received the Toronto Blue Jays' third baseman, a proven power hitter, but one with history, too. Not only did Troy Glaus have injury problems like Rolen, he also brought accusations of PED purchases in his past.


Part of putting together the deal, one of the early successes of the John Mozeliak regime in St. Louis, was securing Glaus' waiver of the no-trade clause in his contract. Along with that agreement, the Cardinals also gained their third baseman for 2009.


In his Toronto contract, Glaus had a player option for next season at the rate of $11.25 million, a step down from his $12.5 million salary here in 2008. In making the deal, the Cardinals convinced Glaus to exercise his 2009 option right then and there, ensuring the club of his services for a second season.


At the time, no one knew that less than five months later, the Cardinals would be selecting Arizona State University's third baseman Brett Wallace with their first-round pick, 18th overall, in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.


A proven hitter, the only question that follows Wallace is whether or not his range at third base will be adequate at the major league level. I look forward to seeing the 22-year-old for the first time in person as he competes in the Arizona Fall League prospect showcase in October and November.


This season, in 54 games, Wallace reinforced his reputation as an offensive threat. After 41 games of bashing Class A pitchers in the Midwest League to the tune of a .327/.418/.490 line (BA/OBP/SLG) with Quad Cities, the left-handed hitter was promoted.


Due to an injury to third baseman Allen Craig and his Springfield club fighting down to the wire for a playoff berth, the Cardinals took a risk and jumped Wallace completely over A-Advanced, placing him with the Double-A Springfield Cardinals.


Though it was a small sample, only 13 games, they were important ones, both for the club and the player. Wallace took to Texas League pitching, exceeding his excellent Midwest League results. In 49 at-bats, Wallace posted a most-impressive .367.456/.653 line for the Cardinals.


Short-term, Wallace has some competition at the position in Craig and David Freese.


St. Louis Vice President of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Jeff Luhnow comments on the organization's blessing of riches at the third base position.


"They are all candidates to be at Triple-A next season," Luhnow observed.


Before his injury, Craig had also put together a very solid campaign with Springfield, though his ultimate position may be elsewhere on the diamond. The 24-year-old Texas League All-Star also saw time in the infield and outfield for the Cardinals.


"Craig can play left, Craig can play first; he can play third," Luhnow pointed out.


Like Wallace last season, Freese jumped a league himself, Double-A, and demonstrated he can hit Pacific Coast League pitching. The right-handed hitter, acquired for Jim Edmonds from San Diego, will have an additional shot to show his stuff this winter, playing for Caribes in the Venezuelan League.


Unless he makes the major league club out of spring training, which looks to be a long shot, the 25-year-old seems slated to return to Triple-A for a second year in 2009.


"Freese is, of the three, the more natural defensive player at third base, so that is where you are going to go, especially because power is there, as well. So I would say that if Freese doesn't make the big league club, he is going to play third base at Memphis and that is going to be the priority there," Luhnow said.


That declaration clarifies where the others are going to start next season, as well.


"Wallace can start at Double-A at third base and Craig, we'll probably throw him in the outfield and have him play third base occasionally.  He can play some first base," reiterated the farm director.


Yet, a trade of one of the three is certainly not out of the question and injuries are always a risk to consider. Luhnow isn't ready to decide anything yet.


"We'll have to see. One injury changes that whole dynamic, or I am sure during the off-season, we are going to have some inquiries about those players," explained Luhnow.


Could Wallace, less than two years removed from playing in the Pac-10, be ready to be a major league third baseman, starting for the Cardinals in 2010?


Of course, Wallace's play in 2009 will play a huge role in what happens afterward, but he is clearly positioned well to compete for Glaus' current job at that time.


Some think that scenario might be too aggressive for the 22-year-old. I suggest we look at a couple of recent high-profile third base parallels to gauge whether or not a 2010 arrival might be realistic.



Let's start with the Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun. He was drafted after his third season at the University of Miami, taken in 2005's first round, fifth overall.


After signing, Braun played the remainder of 2005 between the rookie-level Pioneer League and the A-level South Atlantic League. In 2006, he split the season right down the middle between the A-Advanced Florida State League and the Double-A Southern League.


After a little more than a month of experience at Triple-A in 2007, Braun was starting in the major leagues for Milwaukee. Even with the late start, he led the National League in extra base hits, slugging and total bases and was named the NL Rookie of the Year.


Here in 2008, Braun was moved to the outfield after committing 26 errors at third and signed an eight-year, $45 million contract this May that will tie him to the Brewers through the 2015 season.


Assessment: At this point of his career, Wallace is ahead of Braun in terms of pace. The latter did not reach Double-A until midway through his first full professional season.


However, Braun's 2005 line of .355/.396/.645 in the Sally League is far superior in the power category to Wallace's .327/.418/.490 in the Midwest League, a comparable level, while Wallace had a better on-base percentage.


In his second season, 2006, after just a .778 OPS in the Florida State League, a level Wallace skipped, Braun followed by putting up a .956 OPS at Double-A. Wallace's short Double-A OPS of 1.109 was generated in too few at-bats to yet attach major significance, but it will be interesting to see what he can do back in Springfield in 2009.



Now, let's look at Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria. He was taken at the age of 20 following his second season with Cal State-Long Beach, going third overall in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.


Longoria was promoted aggressively after signing, starting in the New York-Penn League, then jumping to the A-Advanced California League where he spent only a month before receiving a promotion to Double-A.


He returned to Double-A Montgomery for almost the entire 2007 season where he excelled, being named the Southern League MVP. Longoria received the call to Triple-A Durham for the final month of play last year.


Despite Tampa Bay needing a third baseman and his solid play in spring training, Longoria did not make the Rays out of camp this March. This was planned to protect one additional season of the player's services before he could declare free agency, 2014 versus 2013.


After seven games with Durham and an injury to Rays' third baseman Willy Aybar, Longoria made his MLB debut on April 12. One week later, he signed a surprising six-year, $17.5 million deal that includes a club option for 2014 and a second option that covers 2015 and 2016. The contract could be worth as much as $44 million over nine years.


Before suffering a fractured wrist in August that cost him over a month of play, Longoria seemed poised to take the 2008 American League Rookie of the Year award. He still might after winning the fan voting for the final AL All-Star Team spot and having hit 26 home runs and counting this season.


Assessment: At this point in his career, Wallace is only a tick behind Longoria's pace. They both reached Double-A in their first full pro seasons, though Longoria had more at-bats there, 105 to 49.


Longoria's OPS in his initial Double-A introduction was an uncharacteristic .752, which he improved to .931 in his return to Montgomery in 2007. Again, Wallace's minute sample of 13 games at the level yielded an OPS of 1.109 on the heels of his .908 at Quad Cities, a level Longoria bypassed.


After looking at the progress of both Braun and Longoria, each impressive talents, my view that Wallace is on track to compete for a starting role with the Cardinals in 2010 is reinforced. Of course, it is too early to tell whether or not he will deliver the kind of impact of a Braun or Longoria upon reaching the majors.


Though Luhnow made the following comment about the current minor league logjam at the third base position, his closing remark could just as easily be applied to Wallace's MLB chances for 2010.


"We are just going to have to see how it works out," he advised.


True, but so far, I like Wallace's chances.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at


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