With St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Troy Glaus out for an undetermined amount of time to start the season, Brett “Batman” Wallace and David “Mr.” Freese seem to be the two most qualified participants in the race to hold down the hot corner. It is not a battle of good and evil but a battle between two of the top rated prospects in the Cardinals’ system.
Admittedly, there are others competing to hold down the position until Glaus returns from shoulder surgery. But for me, these are the two that offer the most.
The early favorite to fill in for Glaus, Freese is trying to join Kyle McClellan as second St. Louis native in consecutive seasons that has made his big league debut with the hometown team. The 25-year-old was the Birdhouse’s Minor League Player of the Year and was rated as our number 6-prospect in the Cardinal organization. Last season at Memphis, he posted a line of .306/.361/.550 with 26 home runs and 91 RBIs. There were questions about his defense after he came to the Cardinals for fan favorite Jim Edmonds but he quickly put those doubts to rest with stellar defense for the Redbirds. Remember, he skipped Double-A.
Disappointed in not getting a September call-up, he headed to Venezuela to play winter ball. His time would be cut short due to a left wrist injury. Reportedly healthy, Freese does admit it has been a problem. “I had the wrist problem in spring training that shut me out a week. I have broken this wrist twice so it’s caused problems. It’s something I will have to be a little smarter about,” says Freese.
On his competition the “Batman”, “Brett Wallace was a great draft pick. He is a great guy and an awesome ballplayer. "We’re all just going to go out there and give it our best and see what happens.”
On making his big league debut, “I want to play here. Especially, being from St. Louis, that’s my dream. I hope it happens.”
“Batman” Wallace was considered one of the most polished bats in the 2008 MLB First Year Player Draft and why the Cardinals selected him with the 13th overall pick. He didn’t disappoint and he probably had the best professional debut of any player in the draft. He made a quick stop in the Midwest League before being promoted aggressively to Springfield.
After hitting .367/.456/.653 at Double-A, he proved his mettle in the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League. Wallace admittedly got off to a slow start in the desert but he finished strongly. When the season wrapped up, he had finished with a line of .309/.381/.585 with six home runs in 94 at bats. In the Birdhouse’s post-season ranking, Wallace was rated as the team’s second best prospect.
Though no one questions his ability at the plate, most scouts do wonder if he will be able to stick at third. And if he is able to start his career at third, how long will he be able to stay there.
Wallace gives credit to his Springfield manager with helping learn the nuances of the hot corner, “Pop (Warner) was really good about telling me what I’d done well and what I need to work on. He coached me in the Fall League so I got a chance to be with him for a long time. He took me aside and talked to me about playing third. At Springfield, he would show me things before games and talk to me during batting practice.”
Wallace does feel he is improving, “I have a better understanding now. I am only played third at ASU for that final year and when you start playing a position, the angles and routes to ball are things that you might struggle with in the beginnings. It is a split-second decision. The more I play there the more I get comfortable in reading a ball or trusting myself to make the play.”
On getting to the big leagues, “I want to get up here for good. Not just for a week or two.”
When looking at the two’s players defense, the difference stands out. Though no defensive rating system seems to be ideal, Sean Smith’s Total Zone seems as good as any other. Smith explains his ratings, “"Runs" is relative to league average. The meaning of specific numbers varies from position to position, but in general, +10 is a very good fielder, +15 or more is outstanding. Below -10 is not very good at all. Runs/150 estimates runs saved per 150 games, and is shown for players with at least 1/3 that playing time at a position. For infielders, players perform worse, relative to the league, as they move up in levels. In other words, major league third basemen are better fielders than Triple-A third basemen, who are in turn better than players in the lower minors.”
How do the two compare? Anyone that follows the Cardinals’ system knows that Freese is the better fielder. Though the team’s front office touts Wallace’s defensive ability, the difference between the two is quite large. Freese is rated at a +8 runs and a +12 runs/150 for 2008 at Triple-A. Compare that to Wallace’s –6 runs (-3 at both the Quad Cities and Springfield). That’s a difference of 14 runs between Mr. Freese and the Batman.
With the way pitching coach Dave Duncan stresses the groundball, I believe the team will go with Mr. Freese’s defense as long as he proves adequate at the plate. It would take a Pujols-esque spring along with flawless play in the field for “Batman” to break camp with the big league club.
© 2009 stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed.