The Atlanta Braves have finally realized that none of the options they have on the Major League roster at second base are cutting it. The team promoted second base prospect Tommy La Stella to the Major League club from Triple-A Gwinnett today. Who is TLS and what can we expect from him?
La Stella was selected out of Coastal Carolina University by Atlanta in the 8th round of the 2011 draft. At the time of his selection I wrote this review of him, based on reviews I had read from around the web:
Described as a bat-only player who will wind up in left field. Good patience at the plate mixed with excellent raw power. He held his own in the Cape Cod League last summer and should adapt well to the wood bats. His patient approach at the plate will serve him well.
He didn’t end up moving to left field, but the biggest knock on him throughout his minor league tenure has been his average defense at second base. He’s worked hard every year to improve that defense and has just two errors in 40 games at second base this season (.990 fielding percentage).
Some of that criticism of La Stella’s defense is just people repeating what they’ve heard in the echo chamber of the internet. TLS doesn’t have great range at second base, but it’s no worse than Dan Uggla. And La Stella’s glove and arm are just as good and getting better.
But average defense at second will suffice, as it has for the last few seasons, and in return the Braves will get a boost in offensive production from La Stella. He’s not going to come up to the Majors and hit a bunch of home runs, but he will give the Braves something they need in their lineup–a grinder.
La Stella is someone who works counts, takes walks and can surprise a defense with his power to the alleys. This season his slash line is .293/.384/.359, which includes a slash line in May of .275/.398/.388. Notice that even when his average slumps a little, he still gets on base.
TLS also brings consistency to the Braves. Going back to July of 2011, La Stella has had just one month where he posted an OPS lower than .700.
There’s no telling if that production in the minors will translate to the majors, but La Stella has handled every other promotion in his minor league career without skipping a beat at the plate. Even if he does struggle some, he won’t be any worse that the three guys Atlanta has used at second so far this season. In the process the Braves will have the added advantage of getting a prospect valuable at-bats at the Major League level.
This is a long overdue move by the Braves, who needed to do something to find more offense at second base. Dan Uggla is apparently still with the club, so the Braves are too scared to part ways with him and his huge contract (which runs through the end of next season).
This is also a good time to remind everyone that I’m trying to start the nickname “Bonzo” for La Stella, due to his resemblance to the character by the same name in the movie Ender’s Game. (See photo below.)