2009 Preview: AL Starting Pitchers

February 26, 2009
Halladay looks to continue his AL East dominance (ben lei/Flickr).

Halladay looks to continue his AL East dominance (ben lei/Flickr).

In my continuing quest to preview the 2009 season, today’s edition will take a look at the top five pitchers in the American League. Not only will this help preview the upcoming season, but also is a nice little fantasy baseball preview if you have an upcoming draft (or as we call it here, “Phantasy Impact”). Below you will find the top five pitchers ranked along with their 2008 stats, my projections for their 2009 stats, a condensed scouting report of mine and a last word on each. As always please share your thoughts on this list or a ranking of your own in the comments section.

[1] C.C. Sabathia, LHP – New York Yankees
2008 Stats: 17-10, 2.70 ERA, 251 K, 1.11 WHIP
2009 Projections: 19-8, 3.55 ERA, 215 K, 1.18 WHIP
Scouting Report: Sabathia has a monstrous, imposing physical presence on the mound. He comes at hitters with a high 3/4 arm action with a slight hesitation in the middle of his delivery. Hides the ball well and unleashes a bevy of pitches including a fasatball (92-96 mph) with good life, a sliding-cutter he jams in on righties, a slurve to lefties and a circle change with an arm speed similar to his fastball. A workhorse that is an ace of aces.
Last Word: Despite having pitched over 500 innings over the past two years combined, Sabathia doesn’t seem to be the type to slow down. I don’t think he will tire out but his stats won’t be quite a strong as he leaves the AL/NL Central and moves to the very powerful AL East where he will have to contend with the lineups of Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto. He is an incredible competitor and can handle the Big Apple and the sideshow that is the Yankees.

[2] Roy Halladay, RHP – Toronto Blue Jays
2008 Stats: 20-11, 2.78 ERA, 206 K, 1.05 WHIP
2009 Projections: 18-9, 3.18 ERA, 198 K, 1.10 WHIP
Scouting Report: Halladay has a smooth, repeatable delivery with a low 3/4 arm slot. He has incredible command of his pitches including a low-90’s tailing fastball, very original change up and a tight curve with a huge bite that can be thrown at any point in the count. Halladay is a workhorse who has thrived in the toughest division in baseball for many, many years.
Last Word: The American League East was Halladay’s division until the Yankees brought in Sabathia. Now Sabathia is the best of the best and it’s up to Halladay to prove otherwise. He has thrown over 220 innings each of the past three years so some worry about his stability. I don’t think he’s given us any reason to worry, so let’s just assume he’ll be the same Halladay we have come to know and love.

[3] Francisco Liriano, LHP – Minnesota Twins
2008 Stats: 6-4, 3.91 ERA, 67 K, 1.39 WHIP
2009 Projections: 20-6, 2.75 ERA, 225 K, 1.10 WHIP
Scouting Report: Liriano is a strong, athletic lefty with a high 3/4 arm angle. He’s recovering from Tommy John surgery from back in 2006 and this year looks to recover his same dominant stuff from back then. He showed signs of it last season and holds an arsenal of a mid-to-upper 90’s fastball, a hard, slanted slider with bite that hitters can’t touch. His return last year saw his pitch quality and command return.
Last Word: With the amount of time passed since his surgery, Liriano should see his success really start returning this season. It usually takes about a year and a half to start really seeing your pitches return and that’s right about where we are. The only reason he isn’t ranked higher is that the two above him have been more consistent. With how good the Twins rotation is, this right here is their ace and will return to the top of his game in 2009. Look for a serious Cy Young calibur season.

[4] John Lackey, RHP – Los Angeles Angels
2008 Stats: 12-5, 3.75 ERA, 130 K, 1.23 ERA
2009 Projections: 15-11, 3.50 ERA, 170 K, 1.26 WHIP
Scouting Report: Lackey has a sound delivery with a loose 3/4 arm action. He possess an 89-92 mph fastball with good late life that cuts in on lefties, a sharp, late-biting slider and a tight sweeping curveball. Has the ability to throw his breaking stuff at any point in the count. Unlike most, he tends to change speeds off his curveball rather than his change.
Last Word: Lackey isn’t as exciting as Sabathia, as reliable as Halladay or as sexy as Liriano, but he is a very consistent pitcher who will get the job done. Missed the first six weeks of the season last year with a tricep injury, but looks to return to form in 2009 as the ace of the Angels. And with the lack of offense they will provide him, he will need to be on top of his game.

[5] Felix Hernandez, RHP – Seattle Mariners
2008 Stats: 9-11, 3.45 ERA, 175 K, 1.39 WHIP
2009 Projections: 16-11, 3.10 ERA, 190 K, 1.30 WHIP
Scouting Report: Hernandez has an incredible arm and dominating, electric stuff. He attacks hitters with an over the top arm action with an arsenal including a two and four seam fastball (92-97 mph), a powerful slider, two different curves and a well placed change. Uses his four seamer as his predominant strikeout pitch. Has been wildly inconsistent and hasn’t lived up to the “King” billing he received as a rookie. For some reason he doesn’t seem to get up for the lesser teams as he does for the best in the league. Needs to change that before becoming elite.
Last Word: I don’t know what Hernandez’s problem is, but he needs to find his competitive side and unleash it. When he faces the tough teams he comes guns blazing but when he faces the bottom of the barrel it’s almost as if he, as much as I don’t want to say it, doesn’t try as hard. Has the weapons to be one of the best but will struggle to get run support with the anemic Seattle offense.

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
diamondcutter@columnist.com

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2009 Preview: Baseball’s Top Bullpens

February 21, 2009
Where do the Twins and baseballs best closer rank? (gamergirl27/Flickr)

Where do the Twins and baseball's best closer rank? (gamergirl27/Flickr)

Often the most overlooked part of a team’s success is also often the most valuable. In this case, it’s usually the bullpen.

The bullpen isn’t as sexy as a powerful or fast lineup and it’s not as glamorous as a dominating rotation. But in this day in age where starting pitchers have become coddled and pitch fewer innings each game, bullpens have had to get 9-12 outs per game now and having it loaded with reliable arms is more important than ever.

With that being said, I figured the best way to start our 2009 Preview series (one of this site’s most popular series) is to take a look at the top five bullpens in all of baseball.

[5] Chicago Cubs
With the Cubs not bringing back their closer Kerry Wood, the spot has been seemingly opened up for hard throwing right hander, Carlos Marmol. But the winter addition of Florida Marlins closer Kevin Gregg has added some competition for the ninth inning gig. These two will battle this spring, one with power on his side and the other with experience, with the winner getting the nod from skipper Lou Pinella. Don’t be surprised if Gregg wins this job with Pinella’s track record favoring veterans. Also make sure to keep an eye on the youngster Jeff Samardzija this season as he could be the closer in the making.
Closer: Kevin Gregg (R)/Carlos Marmol (R)
Set-up: Carlos Marmol (R)/Kevin Gregg (R)
Impact Arm: Jeff Samardzija (R)
The Rest: Aaron Heilman (R), Luis Vizcaino (R), Neal Cotts (L), Chad Gaudin (R)

[4] Philadelphia Phillies
It’s hard not to put these guys in the top five considering they had one of the best set-up men in baseball (Ryan Madson) and a closer who was perfect right up until the final pitch of the World Series (Brad Lidge) last season. Lidge seems to have gotten over the Pujols shot heard round the world that seemingly crushed his confidence back in the 2005 NLCS and was able to become the most reliable closer in the game. The Phillies had inklings of making Madson a starter until he became an indispensable 8th inning guy. The Phillies pulled in the number four spot even without the cheater JC Romero who won’t be back until mid season due to his suspension.
Closer: Brad Lidge (R)
Set-up: Ryan Madson (R)
Impact Arm: JC Romero (L) (if he’s still good without the juice)
The Rest: Chad Durbin (R), Scott Eyre (L), Clay Condrey (R), Adam Eaton (R)

[3] New York Mets
I haven’t had too many kind words for the choke artists over the years, but I will say they have put together a pretty good bullpen. Going out and getting the best closer available in Francisco Rodriguez was something they had to do with Billy Wagner being out for a long, long time. Then they went out and acquired another solid closer in JJ Putz to be their set-up man. Pretty good start. I do however have a bad feeling about Rodriguez. I can’t put my finger on it, but I just have the feeling Rodriguez is on the verge of completely burning out. His strikeout total took a big drop last and I just don’t know how much longer he has as an elite closer. His 62 saves last season was miraculous but I see troubles possibly late this season.
Closer: Francisco Rodriguez (R)
Set-up: JJ Putz (R)
Impact Arm: JJ Putz (R)
The Rest: Pedro Feliciano (L), Sean Green (R), Bobby Parnell (R), Duaner Sanchez (R)

[2] Minnesota Twins
Those on the outside looking in may not be very impressed with the Twins’ bullpen. Granted they don’t have the big arms they once had (Juan Rincon, Pat Neshek, etc), they do have some good young arms that can hold their own. They have Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain ready to take the 7th and 8th innings as well as newly added Luis Ayala available to get hitters out. But the impact arm may be left handed rookie Jose Mijares who had a spectacular September call up last season posting a 0.87 ERA and 0.29 WHIP in 10 games and holding hitters to a .088 batting average. Oh and there’s always that Nathan guy who happens to be the best closer in baseball.
Closer: Joe Nathan (R)
Set-up: Jesse Crain (R)
Impact Arm: Jose Mijares (L)
The Rest: Matt Guerrier (R), Craig Breslow (L), Luis Ayala (R), Phil Humber (R)

[1] Boston Red Sox
We all know the intensity of Jonathan Papelbon and how lights out he has been. But it’s the rest of the group that can make or break them. The addition of Takashi Saito was huge as he gives the Sox a right handed set-up guy. This is especially important after Francona backed off using Hideki Okajima in close and late games down the stretch last season after a rough first half. Of course the wild card in all of this is the man who would be starting for most other teams in Justin Masterson if not for the Red Sox 19 veteran starting pitchers they have to choose between. If Okajima can bounce back, look out.
Closer: Jonathan Papelbon (R)
Set-up: Takashi Saito (R)
Impact Arm: Justin Masterson (R)
The Rest: Hideki Okajima (L), Manny Delcarmen (R), Javier Lopez (R), Ramon Ramirez (R)

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
diamondcutter@columnist.com

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Junior Returns Home

February 18, 2009
Welcome back Mr. Griffey (terren/Flickr).

Welcome back Mr. Griffey (terren/Flickr).

Thankfully something finally makes sense in what has been a very confusing and disturbing winter for Major League Baseball. Ken Griffey Jr. has agreed to come back to Seattle where he started his miraculous career 20 years ago.

The deal is a reported one-year, $2 million deal with $2.5 million in incentives based on at-bats and the amount of attendance he draws (he is expected to bring in an additional 200,000 fans this season).

Not only is this great for baseball in general, but it’s great for Mariner fans who have had very little to cheer for the past couple of seasons. There’s been Ichiro and that’s about it. Bedard didn’t do anything, “King Felix” still hasn’t been as royal as expected and most of the roster is overpaid and under performs. Basically Seattle has gone in the wrong direction over the past few seasons and at least this will give fans something to cheer for.

I know I for one am happy to see him back where I have the fondest memories of him.

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
diamondcutter@columnist.com

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Top Prospect #14: Colby Rasmus

February 16, 2009

14
NAME: Colby Rasmus
POSITION: Center Field
AGE: 22 | BATS: L | THROWS: L
ORGANIZATION: St. Louis Cardinals

2008 STATISTICS
LVL AVG R HR RBI OBP SLG
MiLB .252 58 12 38 .351 .401

Scouting Report: Colby Rasmus projects all plus tools and is the superior, impact-type prospect the St. Louis Cardinals organization has been waiting for ever since Albert Pujols was plucked from it. Some people are worried that Rasmus won’t be the same man since his injury last season, but there’s no proof of that. Rasmus is a perfect example of a five-tool player as he can run, throw, field, hit, and hit for power. He has very quick hands which gives him excellent plate coverage. Projects to have plus power and should be able to put up a fantastic stat line. Excellent bat speed, good pitch recognition, and plus runner. Not sure how much St. Louis will allow him to run once he reaches Majors but could have 20+ stolen bases per year. He’s doing an excellent job on his move to center field which is where the Cardinals desperately need someone ever since Jim Edmonds’ departure.

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
diamondcutter@columnist.com

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Diamond News: “Dunn Deal”

February 11, 2009

Apparently Adam Dunn got sick of waiting around for teams to come to their senses and sign him as he has reportedly signed a two-year, $20 million deal with the Washington Nationals. While this is a great signing by the desperate Nationals who need a middle-of-the-order impact bat for their punch less lineup, I am less excited to see a bat like Dunn’s be wasted in Washington.

As many of you know I have been a big advocate for a contending team to sign the slugger as I feel they could greatly utilize his on-base abilities and power numbers. But in a strange, penny pinching off season, there didn’t seem to be any people banging down his door for his services.

I am a little surprised that this wasn’t a one-year deal to allow Dunn back out into the wild next season, but I’m guessing the Nationals insisted on it.

Look for Bobby Abreu to be the next off the board…

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
diamondcutter[at]columnist.com

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The Maturing Marlin Staff

February 9, 2009

Teams have learned time and time again that in order to be successful you need a lot of solid, consistent pitching. This especially becomes true once October rolls around. Oh and of course, the younger the better.

Is 2009 the year of the Marlin? (ohad*/Flickr)

Is 2009 the year of the Marlin? (ohad*/Flickr)

There are some teams don’t follow the “younger the better” philosophy. Just look at all the money teams like the Yankees and Mets have spent in recent years on old talent. And how many championships (or even World Series appearances) have they won recently? Exactly.

Now that’s not saying that having a veteran presence in your rotation isn’t a good thing, because it is. But on the same hand when you are relying on numerous pitchers in their late-30’s to early-40’s, you are eventually going to get burned when they break down in July and you are left scrambling to fill their slot. I also understand the other side of the coin that when you rely too heavily on young and inexperienced pitching, that can come back to bite you too.

In 2008 the Florida Marlins surprised everyone by finishing with a 84-77 record and sticking in the NL East playoff race for the majority of the season. Their offense showed a lot of power and run production with their centerpiece, Hanley Ramirez, posting yet another MVP caliber season. But the biggest surprise was the Marlins young rotation that seemed to come together perfectly. They are young, they are talented and they still have a ton of potential. Take a look below at how the five men who will fill out the 2009 rotation fared last season:

+----------------+-----+-------+-------+------+------+-----+------+
| PLAYER         | AGE |  IP   |  W-L  | ERA  | ERA+ | SO  | WHIP |
+----------------+-----+-------+-------+------+------+-----+------+
| Ricky Nolasco  |  26 | 212.3 | 15-8  | 3.52 |  121 | 186 | 1.10 |
+----------------+-----+-------+-------+------+------+-----+------+
| Josh Johnson   |  25 |  87.3 |  7-1  | 3.61 |  118 |  77 | 1.35 |
+----------------+-----+-------+-------+------+------+-----+------+
| Chris Volstad  |  22 |  84.3 |  6-4  | 2.88 |  148 |  52 | 1.33 |
+----------------+-----+-------+-------+------+------+-----+------+
| Anibal Sanchez |  24 |  51.7 |  2-5  | 5.57 |   76 |  50 | 1.57 |
+----------------+-----+-------+-------+------+------+-----+------+
| Andrew Miller  |  23 | 107.3 | 6-10  | 5.87 |   72 |  89 | 1.64 |
+----------------+-----+-------+-------+------+------+-----+------+

As you can see, the first three did an incredible job last season all posting well above league average in ERA+. The scary thing is none of them appear to have reached their peaks yet. The bottom half of the rotation didn’t fare as well, but if you look at their ages and their experience (especially Miller) you can cut them some slack. Miller has all the tools as a former top prospect both in Detroit and Florida and Sanchez had an incredible rookie season in 2006.

The problem is that not too many people know these names. As good as they are, they don’t get national attention. Do you remember ESPN or Fox having any of their games broadcast nationally last year? Neither do I because it didn’t happen (I highly recommend checking them out as much as possible if you have MLB Extra Innings or MLB.TV as you won’t be disappointed). So for those of you not familiar with the names or if you want to learn a little more about their make-up and scouting report, let’s take a detailed look at each and why this rotation is going to make a huge difference in the NL East race.

Nolasco appears to be the ace (ac4lt/Flickr).

Nolasco appears to be the ace (ac4lt/Flickr).

Ricky Nolasco, RHP
Nolasco has always had the label “impressive upside” attached to him and it seemed to finally blossom in 2008. After missing most of 2007 with elbow inflammation, he bounced back in a major way and has adopted the “ace” label for the staff. Nolasco has a power arm that comes out of a 3/4 arm slot which is all packaged with a very laborious delivery. His rough delivery ends with a stiff front leg and recoils with a high arm finish. His repertoire includes two plus pitches, a fastball (91-94 mph) with good life attached to it and a knee-buckling plus slurve that kills hitters. He also mixes in a decent changeup and a cutter to the mix as a third and fourth pitch. The big knock on him in the past was due to his strenuous delivery, he at times was inclined to fly open upon his follow through and lose his release point. He looks to have spearheaded this issue as watching him last season he appeared to have worked out the kinks. The only other thing is he is a flyball pitcher who gives up a few too many home runs. Either way Nolasco is extremely competitive and is one of the best young pitchers in the game today.

Johnson is the other ace in Floriday (wallyg/Flickr).

Johnson is the other "ace" in Floriday (wallyg/Flickr).

Josh Johnson, RHP
Johnson is the other ace of the group who is a tall power pitcher who is very imposing on the mound with his 6-7 frame. He has a very smooth, sound delivery and takes advantage of his stature by producing a fantastic downhill angle to the plate which gives the appearance that the pitch is coming down on the hitter. His pitch arsenal includes both a two and four-seam fastball (sitting between 92-96 mph) which is lively both up and down in the strike zone. Johnson does a great job pitching inside on hitters which helps open up the strike zone for him where many pitchers are affraid to go. His secondary (strikeout) pitch is a power slider that he is able to change the break on depending on if he is facing a lefty or a righty and keeps hitters honest. Also adds a decent changeup as a third pitch. Johnson looks to have completely recovered from his Tommy John surgery he had two years ago and looks to be the second ace for Florida.

Volstad looks to come into his own (kla4067/Flickr).

Volstad looks to come into his own (kla4067/Flickr).

Chris Volstad, RHP
Volstad is a tall, lanky righty with a very smooth and repeatable delivery. His claim to fame is the minuet number of homers he gives up every year. He has always been a fantastic groundball pitcher thanks to his best pitch which is a plus hard sinking fastball that drops off the table to hitters. Volstad also has a plus curve that he baffles hitters with and a very strong changeup which helps keep hitters on their toes when looking for the sinking fastball. He has very good make-up on the mound with great control of his pitches. One thing that Volstad has been working on for a while is that he needs to find a way to finish hitters off better as he tends to struggle with this. Due to this he has never been a strikeout pitcher but when you keep the ball on the ground, it ends up evening things out. Volstad has had the label of “front line starter” attached to him for a while now so it is nice that he is able to settle in to the middle of the rotation and not worry about being the man right now in Florida as he gets ready for his first full season in the bigs.

Sanchez looks to bounce back to his 06 season (Sportech/Flickr).

Sanchez looks to bounce back to his '06 season (Sportech/Flickr).

Anibal Sanchez, RHP
Sanchez had a fantastic rookie season in 2006, missed most of the season in 2007 due to a torn labrum and tried to put things back together in 2008. 2009 should hopefully be Sanchez’s bounce back season now that he’s fully recovered from his injury. His smooth, 3/4 delivery will certainly help with that as it is a nice fluid delivery which doesn’t cause a lot of unnecessary stress on his body. His repertoire includes a two and four-seam fastball which sit in the neighborhood of 90-95 mph with good life up and down in the zone and can be placed on both sides of the plate. He does a great job intimidating hitters with these as he isn’t affraid to come inside and back hitters off the plate. With hitters looking for his explosive fastball, he is able to trick them with his changeup which looks just like his fastball coming out of his hand. The only troubles he has is that he can open up too quickly during his delivery which can cause his fastball to loose control. If he can stay closed he is a very good strikeout pitcher and can begin working back to his 2006 form.

Miller was one of baseballs top prospects (wallyg/Flickr).

Miller was one of baseball's top prospects (wallyg/Flickr).

Andrew Miller, LHP
Andrew Miller looked to be the best pitcher to come out of the 2006 draft which was filled with quality pitchers. But due to injuries and significant mechanical issues he has yet to live up to his projections. Part of Miller’s problem is his inconsistent, long 3/4 delivery in which he throws too much across his body. Because he doesn’t have a repeatable delivery and tends to loose control of the strike zone which ends up driving up his pitch count. His pitches include a fastball (88-95 mph) with late movement, an above average sharp breaking curveball and an average sinking change-up. For Miller to become a more effective pitcher, he will need to work on developing a more consistent and fluid delivery. This is important for any pitcher to have but even more so for a pitcher like Miller who tends to lose control of his accuracy. Remember he’s still only 23 so there is plenty of time to right the ship but the longer it takes to fix, the harder it will be.

Quite an impressive rotation, but let’s not forget their new closer.

The fireballer looks to shut the door in 09 (wikipedia).

The fireballer looks to shut the door in '09 (wikipedia).

Matt Lindstrom, RHP
The Marlins traded their former closer Kevin Gregg to the Cubs without any worries knowing full well what they had waiting in the wings. Matt Lindstrom (who turns 29 in a few days) has a cannon-loaded arm and has just the make-up you would want in your closer. He has a nice clean delivery which helps him keep control of the strike zone. His best pitch is without question his nuclear fastball that sits between 95-99 mph and will at times hit 100 mph on the radar. It gets on hitters in a hurry with a late explosion that seems have a life of its own as it approaches the plate. He utilizes it best when the blows it by hitters up in the zone where they have little chance to catch up to it. But when hitters are looking fastball, he frustrates them by throwing a hard, slanted slider that sits around 86 mph and darts away from righties. Also mixes in an occasional changeup for good measure. Now that he is the man to shut the door on opponents, he needs to make sure to keep his pitch selection in check and not get too revved up and let his fastball get away from him. He’s a fantastic choice to take over this role and he should be just what the Marlins need close games out.

I’ve stated a few times this winter how the Marlins are my big surprise pick for 2009 and it is in large part due to this rotation. In fact I’d like to go on record right now stating that they are my pick to win the National League and make their triumphant return to the World Series.

Think I’m nuts? The Florida Marlins won the World Series in 1997 when they weren’t supposed to. Then six years later in 2003 they won it again when they weren’t supposed to. Well guess how many years it’s been since they won it in 2003?

You guessed it. They are due.

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
diamondcutter[at]columnist.com

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Prospect Spotlight: Brett Wallace

February 7, 2009

Name: Brett Wallace | Organization: St. Louis Cardinals
Position: Third Base | Drafted: 2008 1st Round (13th)
Bats: Left | Throws: Right | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 245

Brett Wallace will put up some great numbers as a pro (phxwebguy/Flickr).

Brett Wallace will put up some great numbers as a pro (phxwebguy/Flickr).

In December 2007 I did my first collegiate list ranking the top five hitters of the NCAA Junior class. I had a great time doing this as the months prior gave me a great opportunity to start digging deeper into college baseball.

My results were very much a mixed bag amongst readers as everyone agreed about the names on the list, however not everyone agreed on my rankings. My list from 12/8/07 had big names from this past summer’s draft including the top two on the list which caused the most discussion. Many people thought the young slugger from Vanderbilt, Pedro Alvarez, was the top hitter while I thought the more well rounded hitter, Brett Wallace, deserved the top spot. Needless to say there was a lot of good debate on the subject.

While that was over a year ago, I still stand by my original statement and believe Wallace was the best overall offensive player from the group. In fact, in college Wallace was the 2007 Pac-10 Player of the Year as a sophmore when he won the Triple Crown. The best part of Wallace’s success and make-up is that his game will translate very well to pro ball.

Scouting Report: When discussing Brett Wallace’s game we have to first start with his bat. There really isn’t any other direction to go since it is what makes him worth talking about. As I mentioned earlier, despite people who have strongly disagreed with me, I believe Wallace is the best offensive player that came from the 2008 MLB draft. While he may not have as much power of some of his fellow draftees, his overall offensive game is the strongest.

First let’s start with his approach at the plate. Wallace has very good plate discipline considering his age as it generally takes some time to get everything in synch. But Wallace is the type of hitter who refuses to expand his strike zone and waits pitchers out, forcing them to throw him something he can make solid contact with. Wallace also does a great job in plate coverage thanks to his batting stance which crowds the plate. With his advanced approach, Wallace has the potential to translate his success to the pros and could end up being a perennial on-base machine with OBPs around .400.

With having such a fine tuned eye at the plate, Wallace’s ability to be productive in the pros is pretty much set. But when you include his swing and the power he generates, you end up piecing together why he has the potential to be so special.

We now move on to what happens when Wallace finds his pitch. As I mentioned earlier, Wallace tends to crowd the plate which gives him great reach for the entire plate. This allows him to reach the outside corner and his short stroke allows him to turn on inside pitches. He also keeps his hands held high in the air and keeps his weight back allowing him to help generate power and use as a timing mechanism. Wallace’s short stroke goes right through the ball which follows up with a very hard uppercut swing. His swing is built to be a line drive, gap-to-gap hitter but he is strong enough and has the bat speed to hit homer totals into the 30’s.

Wallace has a fantastic appraoch (mwlguide/Flickr).

Wallace has a fantastic appraoch (mwlguide/Flickr).

If I were going to portray his skills to what they would translate to in the majors, I would say he is a .280-.300 hitter, around .380-.400 OBP and a slugging percentage in the upper .500’s. Then add in his 25-30 homers and 100+ RBI and you have a pretty strong offensive weapon that Albert Pujols will love having hit behind him.

On the defensive side however, things aren’t quite as rosy. Wallace’s offense has never been questioned but his defense has always been something he’s criticized for. Wallace would be best suited to play first base but we all know that position is going to be held down for quite a while in St. Louis. So third base looks to be where this kid will be saddled while with the Cardinals. Many don’t think he is athletic enough to stay at this position but unless the Cards intend on trading him, there really aren’t many options with no DH rule in the National League.

By simply looking at him you would automatically assume he won’t be able to play the hot corner. Sometimes I wonder if this is as deep as many scouts dig into his defensive abilities and just label him as a liability there. But the truth is Wallace does have some quickness and the feet to play an average third base. He also has pretty good hands and a fairly strong arm. Not exactly a glowing recommendation, but it is what it is.

While all this translates to an average third baseman, where I worry is in his ability to react to hard hit balls. I mentioned earlier how he has some quickness, but perhaps not enough to compensate on balls that are smashed in his direction. This could partially be counteracted by where he positions himself depending on the hitter, count and situation, but you really can’t coach reaction time which could be a giant flaw in his game. Basically I don’t see him killing his team with his defense, but I don’t see him helping at all either.

Overall Brett Wallace is going to be a solid player for the Cardinals for many, many years. If they can just get adequate defense from him at third they will have found themselves an All-Star offensive weapon that will be able to protect Pujols in the lineup.

Maybe we’ll even be able to say “Pedro who?”

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
diamondcutter[at]columnist.com

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