In some respects, it was a tale of two seasons for Red Sox relief prospect Jacob Wallace.
After spending the entirety of the 2021 campaign with High-A Greenville, Wallace made the jump to Double-A Portland out of camp earlier this spring. The right-hander got off a tough start while going up more advanced competition, as he posted a 6.75 ERA in the month of April.
By the time the All-Star break arrived in late July, Wallace’s numbers had not improved much. Although he was holding opposing batters to a .191 batting average against, the 24-year-old was struggling with his command and walking nearly 22 percent of the batters he had faced to that point. That led to an ERA of 5.87 and a FIP of 5.96.
Maybe he worked on something or maybe he just took some time off. But whatever Wallace did over the course of the four-day summer break clearly worked.
From July 22 through the end of the regular season, Wallace pitched to a much-improved 1.38 ERA and 4.07 FIP to go along with 30 walks to 17 walks across 19 relief appearances spanning 26 innings of work. The free passes were still an issue to a certain extent, but the righty did manage to lower his walk rate down to 16.3 percent in the second half.
“I started off the year not doing so hot with the control,” Wallace told The Eagle-Tribune’s Mac Cerullo last month. “As much emphasis as there is always with it, I struggled a little bit. I was getting in my own head with my mechanics and beating myself out there, which haltered a good season right out of the gate. But I worked on it all year long and the mechanics kind of clicked, and that’s helped me get better control and keep the walks down.”
A native of Methuen, Mass., Wallace was originally selected by the Rockies in the third round of the 2019 amateur draft out of the University of Connecticut. The following September, the Red Sox acquired the local hurler as the player to be named later in the August 2020 trade that sent veteran outfielder Kevin Pillar to Colorado.
Listed at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, Wallace is described by SoxProspects.com as having “among the best raw stuff for a true relief prospect in the system, with the potential for two plus pitches.” Those two pitches — a high-90s fastball and mid-80s slider — are now complemented by a changeup and a cutter.
“I’m still getting the perfect location on it and trying to get it inside to lefties and away to righties and locating that really well, but overall feeling great throwing it,” Wallace said. “Just pure confidence going into the game knowing if [the catcher] puts down a cutter I’m going to throw it for a strike, swing and miss, whatever I need.”
Wallace, who does not turn 25 until next August, can become Rule 5-eligible this off-season if he is not added to Boston’s 40-man roster by the November deadline. Assuming he remains in the organization through the winter, it appears likely he will break camp with Triple-A Worcester in the spring.
“I’m going at my pace. I feel like what I’ve learned this year would have been lost on me if I’d just jumped up to Worcester early with a good start,” said Wallace. “I wouldn’t have grown as a player as much as I did this year sticking around in Portland. It’s honestly perfect that I haven’t moved up, and growing as a player down here and being able to really feel comfortable down here and gain that confidence, pitching against the Double-A guys because they’re good enough as it is. But I’m excited for that next step and that’s on the Red Sox to tell me when that’s the case.”
(Picture of Jacob Wallace: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)