Lexington Legends

Legends' Wallace reveals the power behind the mask

Legends catcher Chris Wallace is congratulated after scoring in the 4-run second inning against Augusta before play was suspended at Whitaker Bank Ballpark in Lexington, Ky., Monday, May 2, 2011. Photo by Matt Goins 11918
Legends catcher Chris Wallace is congratulated after scoring in the 4-run second inning against Augusta before play was suspended at Whitaker Bank Ballpark in Lexington, Ky., Monday, May 2, 2011. Photo by Matt Goins 11918

Pitchers around the South Atlantic League no longer have to ask, "Who is that masked man?"

They have gotten to know Chris Wallace all too well.

Wallace is no Lone Ranger.

However, he does carry the biggest bat on a Lexington Legends offense that leads the league in home runs and is second in batting average.

He not only wears a mask when playing catcher, his batting helmet is outfitted with a face guard. A close look at the right side of his face reveals a scar.

"I got hit in the face my junior year in college," said Wallace, out of the University of Houston. "I don't have any cheekbone left. It's all metal plates and screws."

Now, Wallace is doing the hitting.

He leads the South Atlantic League in RBI (27), hits (40), extra-base hits (20) and total bases (78) and slugging (.743).

Much of his early-season success can be traced to off-season workouts, much of which took place at Minute Maid Park.

"This whole off-season, the guy worked out with us every day at Minute Maid," Astros right fielder and former Legends star Hunter Pence said. "He was there early and just worked his tail off and prepared for our season the way you should. It's not surprising that he's playing the way he is, and I'm really happy for him."

Wallace is just off the league lead in several offensive categories. He is second in homers (8), third in runs (26), tied for third in on-base percentage (.463), third in batting (.381), tied for sixth in triples (2) and tied for fourth in doubles (10).

"The good thing about it is that he's driving the ball out of the park, and he hasn't pulled the ball yet," Manager Rodney Linares said. "Everything's been right-center, left-center and right field. He's hitting the ball hard, and he's consistent with his approach."

Wallace, 23, also gets high marks from Linares as a defensive catcher, one who shows maturity and communicates well with pitchers.

A 6-foot, 212-pound right-hander from the Houston suburb of Cypress, Wallace hit .291 with a team-leading 10 home runs as a collegiate senior. He had a .388 on-base percentage and a .486 slugging percentage. Good numbers, but Wallace says he should have done better.

"I think I've always had the power I'm showing now," he said. "In college, for whatever reason, I didn't play to my capabilities, I guess you could say."

A lifelong Astros fan, he was picked by his hometown team in the 16th round of last year's draft, 483rd overall. He signed a contract the same day.

Assigned to Greeneville, he hit .310 with eight homers and 32 RBI over 47 games. He earned Appalachian League All-Star honors and a promotion to Tri-City of the New York-Penn League.

With the ValleyCats, he batted .250 with two homers and eight RBI in 20 regular-season games.

In five post-season games, Wallace went 5-for-16 (.313) with a homer and two RBI, helping Tri-City to the NYPL championship.

Last winter, he kept working. Almost every day, he practiced with the same hitting coach he's had since junior high school, Sid Holland.

Wallace said he wasn't quite on his game when he reported for spring training. He put in extra time with his coaches in an effort to solve the problem.

"There was just one minor adjustment I needed to make, and that had a little bit to do with my stance," he said. "From there, everything just clicked."

Wallace opened this season with hits in his first 12 games, including a 5-for-6, three-homer, nine-RBI game at Asheville. The three homers tied a Legends record, and nine RBI broke the record.

After going 0-for-4 in his 13th game, Wallace went on a seven-game hitting streak. That gave him a .418 average, with hits in 19 of his first 20 games.

Wallace's statistics compare favorably with Legends sluggers of recent years, including Pence and last year's league MVP, J.D. Martinez. It figures that, as happened with Pence and Martinez, Wallace might be promoted from Lexington long before the season ends.

"I'm OK with that," Linares said. "I've always said I don't put the team before the player. This is a business, and the business is to get them as quick as possible to the big leagues. My biggest thing is, if he's going to move, he probably deserves to go to Double-A."

Said Wallace: "You start thinking about that, then you're drawing your focus away from the baseball field. Then, if you're not getting moved up, it can start to get to your head. I really just try not to think about it. When it's my time, it's my time."