Wallace aims to make impact with Astros
Former first-round pick getting comfortable in his surroundings
HOUSTON -- Brett Wallace has an apartment a few blocks from Minute Maid Park, a handful of players on the team he considers close friends and a locker to store his gear when he comes in for workouts at the ballpark in the winter.
Wallace, who was nothing short of a baseball nomad early in his professional career, has been with the Astros longer than any of his previous three organizations and is finally starting to feel comfortable in his surroundings. He can only hope that will help him establish himself at the Major League level in 2012.
The much-ballyhooed former first-round Draft pick of the Cardinals, Wallace will come to Spring Training next month trying to win a spot on the Major League roster. He was the Astros' Opening Day starter at first base last year and got off to a quick start at the plate before slumping and eventually being sent to Triple-A later in the season.
Nothing will be guaranteed this year for Wallace except long bus rides and plenty of at-bats.
"I feel really confident going into camp and really comfortable," he said. "That's the first time in my career, being traded three times and all that, that I've been able to stay with a team for over a year and kind of gain that experience and gain that team feeling and comfort level.
"This is the first time I feel going into camp I know everybody -- I know the training staff, I know the coaching staff, I know what they like from me, what they don't like and what they think I need to work on. I feel I'm part of this team and part of this movement going forward. It's really the first time I can say that in my career."
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow was with the Cardinals when St. Louis drafted Wallace in the first round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. He was dealt to the A's a year later in the Matt Holliday deal and five months later was sent to Toronto. The Astros traded for Wallace at the non-waiver Trade Deadline in 2010 in a three-way deal that sent Roy Oswalt to the Phillies.
Wallace, 25, appeared in 115 games for the Astros last year and hit .259 with five homers and 29 RBIs in 336 at-bats. When Carlos Lee was moved to first base following the promotion of J.D. Martinez in late July, Wallace was sent to the Minor Leagues for a month.
"My goal is the same as last spring -- go in there and be in shape and ready to go and be aggressive and be myself and be ready to do things I can do to help this team win," Wallace said. "If I do that, there's always going to be spots on teams for you."
In an effort to improve his stock, Wallace played in 20 games for Escogido in the Dominican Winter League this winter before being released by general manager Moises Alou. Wallace hit .173 with two homers and nine RBIs in 20 games, but he said the experience was invaluable.
"It was one of those things -- you start to struggle a little bit and people start pitching you differently," Wallace said. "And when I was down there, I actually hurt my back about two or three weeks in and I just wasn't really swinging the way I wanted to. I started making adjustments to try to play, and I think they realized that, too. It was probably best for me to come home and get ready to go. This season is the most important thing to me. It's definitely an experience being down there and getting a chance."
Wallace hasn't had a chance to talk to new Astros management about where he stands going into his second Spring Training camp with the club. Lee is penciled in as the starter at first, but Wallace's goal is to force the Astros to have to make some difficult decisions.
"For me, my goal is to go in there and work hard, and I'm going to be ready to go physically," he said. "I got off to a great start last year, and I think that's the player I can be, producing and being a big part of the lineup. I need to be ready to show them it wasn't a fluke and it's not going to be up and down, and show them I'm going to be a consistent player who can help us. If that makes their job harder, I guess that's my goal -- to do that."