For a first round pick (selected 13th overall by St. Louis in 2008) and a former top 30 prospect, soon-to-be 26-year-old Brett Wallace has experienced quite the odyssey over his five-year professional career.
A corner infielder for the Astros, the burly left-handed hitter tallied a .337 average with a .957 OPS between Single-A and Double-A in the Cardinals organization in his 2008 debut season.
Wallace was blocked in St. Louis by Albert Pujols. The next summer, he was packaged with two other minor leaguers, shipped to Oakland for Matt Holliday and continued to climb the prospect rankings by batting .293 with 20 home runs at Double-A and Triple-A.
Before the 2010 season, Baseball America rated Wallace as the 27th best prospect in the game. That year, he found himself with another new organization after Oakland traded him to Toronto for outfielder Michael Taylor in the off-season.
Undeterred, Wallace suited up for his third Pacific Coast League team in a one-year period, having played at Memphis (Cardinals) and Sacramento (A’s) in 2009. Awaiting his call to the Blue Jays, Wallace raked at Triple-A Las Vegas to the tune of a .301 average with 18 home runs, 61 RBI and a .868 OPS.
Wallace did get a call from Toronto, but it wasn’t the one he expected – or perhaps it was, considering the previous transactions in which he was included. At the non-waiver trade deadline in 2010, the Blue Jays dealt him to Houston for another top prospect, outfielder Anthony Gose.
During his tenure with the Astros, Wallace has languished in the minors longer than he has desired, partly because of his lack of production during Major League stints in 2010 and 2011.
In his big league debut once he arrived in Houston for Gose, Wallace hit .222 with two home runs and a .615 OPS in 144 at-bats. In 2011, he saw 336 at-bats with the Astros but managed just a .259 average with five home runs, 29 RBI and a .703 OPS.
At 25 entering this season, Wallace’s prospect window was closing, and he once again returned to the PCL for his second season at Oklahoma City (he collected 104 at-bats there in 2010). Oklahoma City is the fourth PCL team for which he has played, and this year he batted .300 with 16 home runs, 57 RBI and an .885 OPS over 310 at-bats.
Eearlier this year, Wallace was called up and hit .333 with a .583 slugging percentage while filling in for Carlos Lee when the veteran was placed on the disabled list. Lee was eventually traded, as was third baseman Chris Johnson. The latter opened a spot for Wallace, who rejoined the Astros on July 30.
Overall, he has a .295 average, four home runs eight RBI, a .500 slugging percentage and a .891 OPS in 78 at-bats this year at the Major League level.
Though the Astros are in rebuilding mode, and are far from contention, this is a key time for Wallace to prove he can be a productive part of the team’s future. First-year general manager Jeff Luhnow acquired 22-year-old third base prospect Matt Dominguez from Miami in the Lee trade, and he was recently called up to the Astros.
Last year, Houston brought in Jonathan Singleton in the Hunter Pence trade to Philadelphia. The 20-year-old Singleton, who did play left field in the Phillies organization since he was blocked by Ryan Howard, is ranked by MLB.com as the organization’s top overall prospect and could be Major League ready by next year.
Luhnow could find room for Wallace, Dominguez and Singleton. If not, Wallace might continue his sojourn as a top prospect bouncing from organization to organization.