The Situation: The Braves incumbent second basemen, Dan Uggla (.177/.254/.257) and Tyler Pastornicky (.200/.317/.257), have struggled mightily so far this season, and as a result, the club is looking for a spark to help their offense. On the horizon, the Braves' no. 6 ranked prospect (by Baseball Prospectus) Tommy La Stella will get a chance to have an impact with the big-league club.
Background: An eighth round pick in 2011, La Stella breezed through the minor leagues, reaching Triple-A in just his third full season. After hitting .328 in 63 games during his debut with Low-A Rome in 2011, La Stella hit .302 with 22 doubles and more walks than strikeouts in 88 High-A games in 2012. He returned to High-A in 2013 and hit a whopping .550 in seven games before moving on to the biggest challenge of his career, posting a .343/.422/.473 line in 81 games at Double-A. The Braves remained committed to pushing La Stella through the system as he moved on to Triple-A in 2014 where he has hit .293 with 25 walks against just 14 strikeouts in 47 games.
Scouting Report: La Stella isn’t a physical (5-foot-11, 185) or particularly toolsy prospect, but what he does, he does exceptionally well. It’s easy to criticize a player with below-average speed and below-average power, but at some point, you have to give a guy credit for what he can do.
La Stella can flat out hit a baseball. He leads with a tremendous approach at the plate; blessed with the ability to recognize spin right out of the pitcher’s hand, and he compliments that with an outstanding knowledge of the strike zone. Combined, La Stella sees pitches and makes immediate judgments on whether they should be attacked. He is willing to work counts and routinely waits for a pitch he can barrel with ease.
With bat-to-ball ability that can make scouts swoon, La Stella is a naturally gifted hitter who can hit all types of pitches in all parts of the strike zone, and he doesn’t have any trouble catching up to premium velocity. Hitting comes easy to La Stella and he has a chance to approach a .300 average, supplemented by a healthy number of walks that will boost his on-base percentage.
La Stella’s hitting gifts don’t extend to his power profile, where he comes up short and won’t pick up more than 15-20 doubles and a handful of home runs a year. He has enough bat speed and strength to hit solid line drives, but he doesn’t smoke the ball and won’t find the gaps consistently in the majors. In the end, La Stella profiles as more of a table setter who can hit and get on base at a high clip.
In the field, La Stella lacks range because of his unimpressive first-step quickness and below-average speed, but he gets to a surprising number of balls because of his intelligence and ability to position himself before the pitch. La Stella’s footwork is solid and his hands are above average, giving him enough of a defensive profile to stick at the keystone.
Though the total package isn’t sexy, La Stella has the high-end hit tool and on-base skills to perform at the top of the order, and his glove will stand up enough to keep him in the lineup every day. While he won’t have power or speed as a significant part of his line, La Stella should still be a solid regular.
Immediate Big-League Future: Given the struggles of the incumbent second basemen in Atlanta, La Stella has a window to establish himself as an everyday big leaguer. His approach in the batter’s box is so advanced that La Stella has a chance to smooth the learning curve he will face at the game’s highest level, and he should hit around a near-average level right out of the gate. —Mark Anderson
Fantasy Impact: In fantasy terms, La Stella wasn't much of a prospect. In my savvy, 12-team NL-only home league, not a single team took a stab at La Stella in a four-round minor-league draft this past March. Yet in an NL-only La Stella will have some value if he’s starting, simply because he will get 20-25 at bats per week and is very unlikely to hurt the batting average. His value will be even greater in OBP leagues. The key for La Stella’s fantasy value will be where the Braves stick him in the lineup. If the Braves keep him up at or near the top of the order, La Stella’s on-base skills will give Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton plenty of opportunities to drive him in. If the Braves elect to bat La Stella lower in the order, downgrade him accordingly. There might be a little speed here, but this is almost entirely a runs/OBP play at a middle infield slot. Add him in all NL-only formats and seriously consider him in 15-team mixed leagues or deeper. —Mike Gianella