Today is the first day teams can expand their active major league rosters to 40, and the two most interesting names promoted thus far are shortstop Alcides Escobar and third baseman Mat Gamel of the Brewers. Neither started today, as beginning their major league career against Johan Santana would have been a tough assignment.
The Cardinals drafted Wallace 13th overall because he was as gifted a pure hitter as anyone in the 2008 draft. It was no surprise that the two-time Pacific-10 Conference triple crown winner tore up low Class A pitching, but he has fared even better after jumping to Double-A. Through his first 53 pro games, he's hitting .343/.435/.540 with eight homers and 36 RBIs. His debut reminds me of Evan Longoria's two years ago, though Longoria did show more power with 18 homers in 62 games.
Wallace's best position is first base, but no one is going to displace Albert Pujols in St. Louis. Wallace did move to third base as a junior and is playing there in the minors. While he's more agile than his 6-foot-1, 245-pound frame might suggest, I've yet to talk to a scout who think he's going to stay at the hot corner in the long run.
I initially misread Troy Glaus' contract details and believed he was going to be a free agent after the 2008, but a reader since has pointed out to me that he exercised his $11.25 million player option for 2009 as a condition of his trade from the Blue Jays. So while Wallace has proven more thus far than any hitter drafted in 2008, he'll probably spend the bulk of next season in Triple-A to see if he can hack it at third base and take over for Glaus in 2010.
If there's a way to reduce a draftee's leverage, MLB probably has thought of it. Implementing it is a different matter.
In March 1992, MLB tried to follow hockey's lead and gave clubs the rights to draftees until one year after their college class graduated, among other changes. The MLB Players Association filed a grievance a month later.
That July, arbitrator George Nicolau ruled that the owners couldn't unilaterally change the draft rules without the consent of the union. Though the owners argued that draftees aren't union members, Nicolau decided that draft-pick compensation tied to major league free agents would affect union members.
I doubt we'll ever see baseball's draft rights emulate the NHL's. The teams would love it, because the Aug. 15 signing deadline wouldn't be as pressing if they had three chances to sign a player. The union, agents and draftees would hate the reduced leverage, however. Clubs also could sign a player after his freshman or sophomore season at a four-year college, rather than having to wait until he's a junior or 21. Not that they have any say in MLB draft rules, but college coaches would go ballistic over that change.
Despite the big years that Hoffpauir, Dubois and Atkins are enjoying, they're more role players than future regulars for the Cubs. Hoffpauir is 28 and in his third tour of Iowa, while Dubois is 29 and first reached Triple-A in 2004. They're best off as first basemen or left fielders, and they're not going to push Derrek Lee or Alfonso Soriano out of a job in Chicago. Hoffpauir does bat lefthanded, so maybe he can claim Daryle Ward's role on the Cubs' bench next year.
Unlike the two hitters, Atkins does have age (22) and a decent draft pedigree (seventh round) on his side. His 88-92 mph sinker is his best pitch, though he has been tagged for 25 homers this year, and his secondary stuff is fringy. He does throw strikes, and he projects as a fifth starter or middle reliever. Atkins probably won't be able to crack Chicago's rotation, and their bullpen is pretty set for the near future as well.
None of them is really Top 10 prospect-caliber. Their emergence this year gives the Cubs added depth but doesn't significantly bolster the strength of their farm system.