In Project Prospect's recent Top 25 Position Player rankings, Brett Wallace sat just outside the top 25 coming in at no. 30. A career .305/.384/.475 hitter in 192 minor league games, Wallace has been a highly regarded prospect since he was drafted 13th overall in 2008. The reasoning for such a low ranking on our list is centered on Wallace's projected power output. Read on for what he does well and what he can improve on.
Wallace starts loaded on a rock solid rear leg in a slightly open stance. Wallace cocks his front knee up and back towards his rear hip with a high leg kick. A high leg kick will always help a hitter time up just about any fastball and when combined with good upper body resistance, the hitter can stay back on off-speed pitches.
Wallace starts with a good amount of weight on his back leg, and he maintains it there during his leg kick by coiling inward with his entire front side and "sitting" on his rear leg. This allows him to move forward while still holding his weight back until he decides to launch.
Take note of how his little his head moves during the entire swing. Even with his open stance, high leg kick and slight counter rotation back to a neutral launch position, Wallace's head barely moves. This bodes well for him to see the ball very deep into the strike zone.
Staying Back and Loaded
As you can see from our video, Wallace does an excellent job of staying loaded on his rear leg. He does it almost too well in fact (More on this in the Improving the Lower Body section). When he's locked in and controlling the at-bat, Wallace can hit any pitch, thanks in part to his wonderful balance.
Different from most minor league and amateur players, Wallace rarely gets onto his front side early. His good lower body mechanics enable him to stay back and loaded.
One minor "quirk" in Wallace's swing is his feet alignment. In his set-up, Wallace has both feet pointed at a slight angle toward about the middle of the third base dugout rather than straight out in front of him. As he coils inward, his back foot spins slightly back to a more neutral position before being pulled up and forward by his hips unloading.
This is simply a minor "quirk" that you see in some open stance left handed hitters, but it does seem to help him have a quick unload into the ball. When the back toe is pointing toward the catcher, the knee and hip usually follow the same angle which adds some distance for them to travel. Keeping the back toe at a neutral or slightly forward position helps a hitter maintain true lines of angular energy.
Wallace starts with a flat bat very close to his ear. He counter rotates his whole body as a loading mechanism, and usually those who do this are slow to unload. Wallace compensates by using his hands to unload, allowing him to catch up to hard fastballs. He has a very direct hand path, and stays inside the baseball well.
Wallace does a good job of resisting with his hands on off-speed pitches, which is also helped by his good lower body balance. He uses his top hand well and does a fairly good job of getting his top palm flat.
Improving the Upper Body
While he does do a decent job of getting his top palm flat, Wallace could stand to get it flat a bit earlier. This will help him stay on plane with the pitch while getting a bit more loft. Getting his barrel to a slightly more vertical position at launch would help Wallace get his top palm flat earlier.
Wallace laterally tilts well -- his rear shoulder drops while the front shoulder works up -- but he appears to be dropping his back shoulder prematurely. The rear shoulder has to drop as you are swinging, not before. Chris Davis' back shoulder drops before he swings, and that is one reason why Davis strikes out at an alarming rate.
This causes Wallace's hands to drop slightly resulting in a brief uppercut and a slight loop in his hand path. This could explain Wallace's surprisingly high strikeout total this year (114 in 136 games). The goal is to keep the hands and the rear shoulder tied together during the first part of the unload. That is how you keep everything tight and contained, and you maintain a true hand path. If Wallace were to delay his lateral tilt just a fraction of a second longer, his slight loop would be removed and should help cut down his strikeouts.
Improving the Lower Body
The only real issue with Wallace's lower body is his lack of a good weight shift. As I touched on earlier, he does almost too good of a job of staying on his back leg. Wallace doesn't always do a good job of getting off his rear leg with a full weight shift. Simply focusing on a more powerful rear hip thrust would help him get a full and explosive weight shift into the ball.
Wallace keeps his weight back on off-speed pitches, but does lose a bit of his front-side coil. If he can maintain his coil, he could handle off-speed pitches even better.
Clearing Up Some Misunderstandings
Compare the Bonds clip below to our video of Wallace. Some say that you can see the steroids in Bonds' swing by how inefficiently he gets off the backside. Fortunately Major League Baseball has been broadcasting their games for decades and video shows that he has had the same swing since he first broke in to the Majors with Pittsburgh. The only difference was more rearward tilt later in his career.
What enabled Bonds to hit the ball so far with a glaring "inefficiency"? It wasn't his new found muscle, though that certainly helped increase his numbers. Watch his rear hip thrust. Bonds held his weight back as long as possible by "sitting" on his rear leg, and then powerfully fired his rear hip up and through the ball. Part of the reason why Bonds always saw the ball so well, apart from his amazing vision, was how his body never leaked forward and held every bit of his load and weight back until launch.
How This Relates
I felt it was important to illustrate how Bonds generates power to show that it is possible to stay back like he and Wallace do, yet still have a full and powerful weight shift. This is where Wallace is lacking right now. He doesn't always get a full weight shift, and this limits his power.
Don't let Wallace's pant size fool you. His lower body is very strong. Getting a firmer rear hip thrust in his swing would allow Wallace to get a full weight shift into the ball and drive up his power numbers.
One thing a powerful rear hip thrust does is help pull the backside through the ball, including the hands. The hands are always in control of the swing, but the rear hip thrusting and pulling helps whip the hands with just a bit more "oomph". All great power hitters do this and if Wallace can add a better shift/pull to his swing, his power would make his outstanding hitting ability a true nightmare for pitchers.
A Quick Note on Approach
A slightly more aggressive approach could help Wallace improve his power numbers. He is very comfortable with his ability to hit for a high average. If he were to look for the right times to swing for the fences more, he could get a few more home runs just by taking advantage of the count. Compare the intent in Bonds' swing vs. our swings of Wallace. Bonds has bad intentions when he swings.
Frank Thomas would always take at least one big home run swing per night, and it certainly helped him pile up 521 career home runs. That isn't to say a more aggressive approach will turn Wallace into Thomas or Jim Thome, but it could very easily help him put up more prolific power numbers.
Wallace is almost a finished product. As evidenced by his success in college and in the minor leagues, he doesn't need much work to be an above-average hitter at the Major League level. There is little doubt about his ability to make hard contact and hit for a high average. What there is doubt about is his ability to hit for power.
If Wallace can stay at third base and hit .300 with 15 home runs in the Major Leagues, he would rank as an above average offensive third baseman. While his defense is better than most would think given his body makeup, he still leaves some to be desired. Wallace will more than likely move to first base within the next few years, where his bat would have to provide more power to stand out. With some minor refinements he could bump his power level up into the mid twenty's and still hit for a high average.
Discussion Question: How many home runs do you think Wallace will hit in his peak MLB season?
Steve Carter can be reached at email@example.com