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Major League Baseball's Next Super Stars

Phenoms Brett Wallace, Matt Wieters, and Tommy Hanson
polish their skills as they prepare for the spotlight

For the last 16 years, baseball fans have flocked to Arizona in October and November to experience the showcase of the world's premier fall baseball league. Just as the desert begins to cool down, baseball's hottest young players descend on the Phoenix area to display their skills for scouts, general managers, and farm directors from around the league.

Each Major League Baseball franchise sends their top prospects to gain valuable experience playing in this major league setting. Most of the league consists of Double-A and Triple-A players, although some have already seen major league action. Described by baseball insiders as a "graduate school" for top minor league prospects, the Arizona Fall League has helped groom a substantial portion of today's "A" list players. To put it into perspective, the 2008 MLB All-Star Game featured 36 AFL alumni and five out of the last seven MLB MVPs formerly played in this prestigious league. All-Stars like Albert Pujols, Justin Morneau, Jason Giambi, David Wright, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Derrek Lee, Ryan Braun and Ryan Howard have all played in the desert in the fall.

In many cases, the talent is so major-league-ready that some of the participating players go on to have breakout years in the big leagues the following regular season. Last year's prime example was Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, who was an All-Star and the 2008 Rookie of the Year while leading the Rays to their first World Series in franchise history.

I've had the privilege of watching the Fall League for the past month and as a huge baseball fan, the experience has been a pleasure, to say the least. The talent of these young athletes is remarkable. So many of them are just on the cusp of making it onto a big league roster and they're working their tails off to prove that they deserve to get that shot, come spring.

There have been three players, in particular, that have stood out the most in this regard. Each of them possesses an unbelievable amount of sheer talent, setting themselves apart with their work ethic, focus and determination to be the best. I had the opportunity to sit down with each of them to discuss their priorities and what their expectations are for the coming season.

Brett Wallace: The Pure Hitter

Brett Wallace was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round of the 2008 players draft held last June. Coming out of college baseball powerhouse Arizona State University, Wallace holds a college career batting average of .398 and was the back-to-back Pac-10 Player of the Year, and back-to-back Pac-10 Triple Crown winner his sophomore and junior years. Since being drafted, Wallace has continued to play at an extremely high level. Originally assigned to Low-A Quad Cities, Wallace reached Double-A Springfield after putting on a 40-day hitters clinic in QC. According to the recent Baseball America's 2008 Draft Report Card, Wallace was voted as having the best pro debut of his draft class after hitting .337, 8 home runs and driving in 36 runs in just 54 games played between Low-A Quad Cities and Double-A Springfield.

Arguably the fastest rising prospect the Cardinals' organization has seen since J.D. Drew in the late 1990s, Wallace was sent to the Arizona Fall League this October to work on his fielding and to gain experience facing top pitching talent. Competing against some of the best competition he has ever seen, Wallace has shown commendable determination and dedication as he works to improve.

B.W. Priority #1: Fitness/Workout '" Keeping his lower body strong

Brett doesn't posses the prototypical body of a baseball player. He has large thighs and a thick core. Because of this, many teams passed on him in the players draft last June. Some scouts believed and still believe that because of his unorthodox body type, he will struggle to find a natural fielding position. Brett sees the situation in a different light. "I was born with a big lower half and I've worked hard to continue to keep it lean, and keep my legs strong and quick. I feel like when I sink in my legs at the plate, I have a little extra juice compared to other guys that may have to try real hard for extra power. I feel it helps me drive the ball around the whole yard and it's just a huge asset for me at the plate." Working to keep his lower half strong, Brett integrates a lot of quick movement exercises into his workout routine. "It's a lot of walk lunges with weights, and explosive jumps, in between sets of squats. It's a combination. You build the explosive strength in the leg muscles that you're working on."

In regard to scouts' concerns over Brett's fielding capabilities, particularly at third base, since being drafted, Brett has committed six errors in 126 combined chances during the regular season and only one error in 28 chances here at the fall League. "I like proving people wrong. People want to say whether I can or can't play third. It's actually more fun when people say I can't do something and then I do and do it well and prove them wrong. It just drives me to play even better.
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"You know, it's an emphasis that I'll always work on. People will always try and find something to knock about my game, and that will continue to motivate me to get better everyday and prove them wrong."

B.W. Priority #2: Nutrition

The life of a professional baseball player is extremely fast paced. Traveling from city to city every couple of days, trying to get adequate nutrition can sometimes be a tough task. "Nutrition plays a huge role in my performance as an athlete. On game days on the road, you may only have an hour to eat before the game and it's easier to just grab something quick rather than eating well. You've really got to have the right frame of mind to be disciplined enough to not eat the garbage. I actually find that eating protein bars and drinking protein shakes make it a lot easier to get the adequate amounts of nutrition quickly after a workout or before a game.

Supreme Protein® bars are the best tasting bars on the market that I've found. It's hard to find a protein bar that has such a high protein content that tastes great, while also keeping the carb and sugar count so low. Supreme Protein® bars offer me everything that I need in order to be energized during vigorous workouts, build muscle, and live a healthy lifestyle." Brett says that staying committed to eating right and working out, takes a lot of discipline. "You work so hard in the gym to get your body to a certain level ... You don't want to eat any crap that may hinder your performance."

B.W. Priority #3: Mental Preparation

With so many unbelievably talented players in the Arizona Fall League, really standing out takes more than just having phenomenal physical athleticism. It takes mental strength as well. "Just getting to play against these guys and experience success is great for me because it builds my confidence. It shows me that I'm just about there'