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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Astros camp report: Finding a home for Wallace


KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros raved about Brett Wallace when they traded for him last July.

"Brett Wallace is a hitting machine," general manager Ed Wade said that day.

Or was that Alex Anthopoulos when the Blue Jays traded for Wallace seven months earlier? Or Billy Beane when the A's traded for him five months before that?

Or maybe it was someone with the Cardinals, the team that used the 13th pick in the 2008 draft on Wallace. .. and then traded him away a little more than a year later.

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Does everybody love this guy? Or is it that everybody hates him?

You wonder, because you just don't see first-round draft picks traded three times in 370 days. You wonder, because if Brett Wallace really is as good as all these teams claim on the way in, there's no way that so soon after he's on the way out.

"But he wasn't traded for a Doug Brocail," said Doug Brocail, the former major-league pitcher who now works in the Astros front office. "He was traded for guys with names."

The Astros basically got him for Roy Oswalt, although technically he was acquired from the Jays for one of the prospects the Phillies traded for Oswalt. The Jays basically got him for Roy Halladay, although technically he was acquired for one of the prospects the Phillies traded for Halladay.

And the A's did get him for Matt Holliday.

So maybe this is more like Carlos Gonzalez, who went from Arizona to Oakland for Dan Haren, then went from Oakland to Colorado for Holliday.

"I've been in some pretty good trades," Wallace admitted. "I've been in organizations that had a vision for me."

The A's saw him as a Northern California guy coming home. The Jays saw him as a big part of their youth movement.

And then they saw him as someone not important enough to keep around.

Now the Astros see him as the guy who takes over for Lance Berkman.

Fantasy Writer

Bounce-back player ... Wandy Rodriguez: Rodriguez actually bounced back over his final 18 starts last season, when he went 8-2 with a 2.03 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP and 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. But by the time that happened, the Fantasy owners who drafted him had already cut him. So they won't be thinking about his strong finish last season. They'll be thinking about how he let them down with a 3-10 record and 6.09 ERA over his first 14 starts. If you can overcome your bitterness, you can capitalize on everyone else's by seeing Rodriguez's first half for the fluke it was. He didn't lose any velocity or command. He simply didn't get the results he should have gotten, as his .359 BABIP during that stretch would suggest. He offers the upside of a No. 2 starting pitcher for the price of a No. 4.

Bust ... Brandon Lyon: Lyon came as a breath of fresh air to the Astros and Fantasy owners following the Matt Lindstrom disaster of early August, offering a high number of saves in a short period of time. But all the Lyon enthusiasts are forgetting one critical detail about him: He was the unreliable one coming into the season. He's usually not so bad in the beginning -- he's not a bad reliever, after all -- but over the course of time, his vanilla stuff just doesn't hold up when opposing offenses are in survival mode. And with live arms like Wilton Lopez and Mark Melancon behind him, he's far from untouchable. The Astros have an above-average pitching staff and a below-average offense, putting Lyon in position for cheap saves early. But sooner or later, the wheels will come off.

Sleeper ... Bud Norris: Norris suffers from some of the usual shortcomings of young pitchers: He issues too many walks and has trouble pitching deep into games. But he stands out in ways that should attract at least some attention on Draft Day. His stuff speaks for itself. He struck out more than a batter per inning in 153 2/3 innings. He also showed improvement over the course of the season by pitching six innings or more in 13 of his final 17 starts, going 7-5 with a 4.03 ERA during that stretch. But he never did overcome his wildness. If he can learn to contain it, his strikeout rate would make him a Fantasy mainstay. As it is, he's just a hope and a prayer in the late rounds.

-- Scott White
Astros outlook | Depth Chart | 2011 Draft Prep

"We needed to find someone who profiled as a first baseman," Wade said.

Wallace began his pro career at third base, but the Cardinals quickly decided he wasn't going to make it at third, and fit better at first. And, of course, they had a pretty good first baseman.

The Astros didn't, or they didn't after they traded Berkman two days after acquiring Wallace. They brought Wallace to the big leagues, before he could ever play a game after joining their Triple-A Round Rock team from Toronto's Triple-A affiliate.

He hit just .222 in his first 51 big-league games, the first time he had struggled at any level. Wallace hit .400 in back-to-back seasons at Arizona State, and he was a .304 career hitter in the minor leagues -- .327 in Class A, .305 in Double-A, .299 in Triple-A.

"He's going to hit," Wade said. "I don't think there's any question he's going to hit, and be productive. I think he's going to hit for power."

The Astros didn't hand Wallace the first base job this spring, but it's not really like he needs to win it, either. Even when Wallace got off to a slow start, Wade said the Astros were already "seeing all the right things we want to see."

Unless he looks totally overwhelmed in the final days of the spring, he should begin this year in the big leagues.

And maybe, just maybe, he can finally settle in.

His teammates hope so. They marvel at how Wallace has handled being traded so often.

"He has a good head about it," Michael Bourn said. "He bonds well with everybody."

Wallace jokes that because he has moved so much, he has friends on almost every team the Astros play. He really does seem to have handled the moves well, and he seems to have accepted that being traded sometimes can mean that another team wants you, not that your own team is giving up on you.

"Every team that acquired me, they wanted me for a reason," he said.

He doesn't seem like the kind of guy you trade away because you can't stand having him around. The question now is whether he'll hit enough to be the kind of guy you want to keep.

The Astros are still convinced he will.

"You see the bat speed is there," manager Brad Mills said. "I'm really looking forward to him coming into his own. If he goes out and plays like he's capable of, he doesn't have to worry about anything."

You mean, like getting traded again?

"I think he'll be in an Astros uniform for a little while," Bourn said with a smile.

Perhaps he will. After all, that line about Brett Wallace being a "hitting machine"?

That really was Ed Wade.


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