Astros release former first-round pick Brett Wallace
Brett Wallace, who was drafted by the Cardinals with the 13th overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft, was released by the Houston Astros on Tuesday, completing his descent from top prospect to bust. Wallace, who was traded three times before making his major league debut with the Astros in 2010, was outrighted off the Astros' 40-man roster to make room for free agent Jerome Williams in early February and had struck out in eight of his 14 plate appearances this spring as a non-roster invitee, reaching base just twice on a pair of singles. He is now a 27-year-old free agent who has hit a combined .242/.313/.391 in 1,077 plate appearances over four major league seasons.
Wallace was a collegiate superstar, winning two Pac-10 triple crowns at Arizona State, a university with a rich baseball history that had previously produced more than 125 major leaguers, including Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson and Jim Palmer, home run king Barry Bonds, and current stars Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, Jason Kipnis and Andre Ethier. When drafted by the Cardinals, Wallace was viewed by many, including those in St. Louis, as a future heart-of-the-order slugger, an opinion he supported by hitting .337/.427/.530 in his professional debut, 234 plate appearances split between A-ball and Double-A at the age of 21.
However, even in his college days there were doubters, most of whom harped on the then-third baseman's lack of athleticism and awkward build, hanging the cruel nickname "Walrus" on him because of his thick and awkward lower body. That made it less surprising when the Cardinals made him the centerpiece of the three-player trade that brought Matt Holliday over from the A's at the 2009 trading deadline, before Wallace had even completed his first full professional season.
Wallace seemed a good fit for Oakland given Billy Beane's Moneyball-era declaration that "we're not selling jeans here," but Oakland, in turn, traded Wallace that December to the Blue Jays for outfield prospect Michael Taylor (who has been similarly disappointing), and at the 2010 trading deadline, Wallace was on the move again, going to the Astros for another outfield prospect, then-teenager Anthony Gose, whom Houston had acquired earlier the same day from the Phillies in the package for Roy Oswalt.
Despite changing uniforms so often, Wallace continued to hit in the minors, putting up a .301/.359/.509 line for Toronto's Triple-A team in 2009 before being traded. However, that line looks better than it actually was given that Wallace compiled it while playing for Las Vegas in the Pacific Coast League, a hitter-friendly city in a hitter-friendly league, and did it exclusively as a first baseman. Called up to the Astros after being acquired, he hit a mere .222/.296/.319 over the remainder of the season and proceeded to exhibit something of a quadruple-A profile over the following three seasons, hitting .318/.396/.519 with 28 home runs in 738 plate appearance in Triple-A from 2011 to 2013 but just .245/.316/.404 with 27 homers in 918 plate appearances in the majors over the same span. With Wallace out of options and arbitration eligible after the coming season, Chris Carter in place at first base in the major leagues, and prospect Johnathan Singleton still looking like the future at that position in Houston (not to mention the fact that the Astros' director of pro scouting, Kevin Goldstein, was among Wallace's critics as Baseball Prospectus's prospect guru prior to joining Houston's front office in August 2012) , it's no surprise that Wallace was dropped from the roster, or that he cleared waivers. The big question is what happens to Wallace from here. He'll surely catch on somewhere, but with his 28th birthday coming in August, he seems more likely to have a journeyman career in the minors than to have a real impact in the major leagues going forward.