With Tommy La Stella reportedly on the verge of a call up for second base, I figured it would be a good time to repost the interview I made with La Stella earlier this year. I was pretty sold on him being my choice for the starting second baseman out of camp before the interview, but in hearing how he handles his business I became certain that he was the guy I wanted the Braves to trot out there on opening day.
Even though they have opted to let him hone his skills in Gwinnett while they gave Dan Uggla one more opportunity, it seems as though La Stella's time is near. Below is the interview and entire piece I wrote on January 8.
I had the pleasure of talking with Tommy La Stella yesterday for about a half hour. We discussed his goals for the season, his baseball mentality, his defense, and about his experience in the minor leagues, among other things.
Last season, La Stella hit .356/.444/.492 mostly at double-A Mississippi. He also participated in the Arizona Fall League (you can watch some video of him hitting in Arizona) where he hit .290/.436/.468 in 18 games. In Arizona he had 29 walks to 16 strikeouts, and he also walked 45 times and striking out just 35 times last season at double-A. He excels at commanding the zone.
This interview was especially cool for me because Tommy and I grew up in the same area and actually went to rival high schools. Not only that, but Tommy went to St. John’s (my alma matter) for a year before going to Coastal Carolina to finish out his college career. It’s great to see a guy from the area you grew up in succeed, as I am sure many of you Atlanta area residents have seen with the plethora of top end prospects they produce. But I digress, here is the interview with our potential future starting second baseman. Enjoy.
Ben: So Tommy, let’s start with your goals for the year. What are you hoping to accomplish in the upcoming season?
Tommy: I definitely think my main goal this year is to play in the big leagues and play at a high level. I am not necessarily setting specific goals in terms of end results, but rather focusing more on the process and reaching day to day goals in every facet of the game.
Ben: Are there any areas you think you need to work on?
Tommy: Everything. There is not one thing I think I am really efficient in one place to where I can say "okay I’m good there I can work on the rest of my game now." The beautiful part of this game is that you never stop learning. Once you think you can stop learning you probably are not going to be around much longer. I plan to focus on the general betterment of my game.
Ben: What are your strengths and weaknesses defensively?
Tommy: I feel like I can go out there and get the job done at the highest level. But like I said, you are never done learning or trying to improve. You can always improve the range, quickness of a double play turn, and things like that.
Ben: Having Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons next to you will probably be helpful, right?
Tommy: The talent that Freddie and Andrelton have are amazing. I had an opportunity to play with Andrelton for a bit when he was on a rehab stint and what he can do defensively is just amazing. He makes everyone around him better. He has that type of personality too that feeds on the rest of us and he gives everyone around him the ability to play better because he can cover so much ground.
Ben: Is the minor league life what you expected it to be?
Tommy: Yeah I would say so. There are certain things that you can’t really prepare for until you are in that position. You really have to be in the middle of to really appreciate how difficult it is. Playing every day is a lot different as a professional is a lot different than in college or high school when you have other things going on as well. Learning to deal with the mental grind is really important.
Ben: Is there anyone within the system that has really helped in the transition to becoming a professional?
Tommy: Geoff Miller (Sports Psychologist, biography here) has helped me gain a lot of perspective. It’s so easy to identify ourselves on the end numbers at the end of the season and end of the day, but he’s more focused on the process. Having him to talk to about keeping things in perspective has been really valuable to me in my few years in the minors
Ben: What stop in the minors has been your favorite spot?
Tommy: Rome was nice, great facility and really nice place to play at. I would say there and Mississippi were my favorite so far, definitely.
Ben: What made you so good double-A Mississippi last year?
Tommy: One really big thing was refining an approach to fall back on when things aren’t going to well. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel when I am struggling, I want to be able to go back and rely on things. Focusing on having a consistent approach was really big for me and it is something I am constantly working on. Another aspect that helped was not putting the brakes on myself, playing without shackles and going with what I think was going to work. Being instinctual at times on both sides of the ball was big for me.
Ben: Is there a player, past or present, who you compare your game to style wise?
Tommy: I would not say that there is a player I really compare myself to, but off the field – Derek Jeter is who I will always try to model myself after. I watched beginning of his career as I’m from the New York area so I have watched from the start how he has been the consummate professional off the field.
Ben: A lot of people have compared you to Matt Carpenter, who recently had an MVP caliber season, do you see that as a fair comparison?
Tommy: Yeah that’s definitely a flattering comparison. Anytime you’re compare to someone in the big leagues it means a lot. Carpenter does a lot of things that are very appealing, controls the strike zone and is a big team player. He’s an all-around baseball player and had a great season last year so that’s definitely flattering.
Ben: Do you focus at all on the new age stats?
Tommy: I try not to get involved with it too much. The end result is something you can get too consumed with. I try to stay focused on the process and stay grounded on the day to day aspect of the game.
Tommy: The good thing about the Braves is that they have relied on their home grown talent. They continue to bring guys up who know each other and are familiar with how the franchise has played for most of their lives. A lot of guys going to fill big and also act as leaders.
Ben: What do you do in the offseason that’s not baseball related?
Tommy: To be honest, something I picked up over the past few years is that I like to fish. There is a lot of good red fishing in Georgetown, South Carolina. Unfortunately this time of year isn’t too great to fish but that’s something I’ve picked up the past few years and enjoy as hobby.