Ben speaking here. I am on a flight to LA, and I was not able to communicate that I was also writing about Tommy La Stella. Rather than simply scrap mine or Scott's post on him, I decided to add mine to this post as well. The first part is Scott's take and the latter part is mine. Sorry about the length of the post and apologies if there is a bit of redundancy.
Scott Coleman's Take:
So far, Tommy La Stella has been everything Braves fans could've hoped for at second base, if not more.
La Stella was an interesting prospect coming through the system. He played college ball and put up impressive numbers at every level of the minor leagues, but they often came with a 'yeah, but...' caveat given his age.
Since being called up on May 28, La Stella has hit .292/.371/.357 in 176 plate appearances. That's good for a 107 wRC+, which is about 10 points better than league-average most years. He's got a very good 10.8 percent walk rate and equally impressive 11.4 percent strikeout rate.
TLS does a nice job making solid contact with the ball, and while his BABIP of .333 is a tad high at the moment, a 25.4% line-drive rate is very promising. He seldom gets fooled at the plate and has a nice, smooth swing that he doesn't try to do too much with. Despite having such little experience in the majors, La Stella knows what kind of player he is.
He hasn't hit for much power and likely never will, though he could be a 30+ doubles guy over a full season – he has eight doubles and a triple so far.
It's still tough to really gauge his defensive abilities given the small sample size, but his first 43 games in the bigs have been on-par for most scouting reports in years past.
Outside of a shaky first series in Boston -- can you believe a rookie would be nervous playing his first couple games in Fenway Park? -- La Stella has been solid with the glove and is at +2 in defensive runs saved. And considering he has more range than that of a parking meter, his defense will continue to be a major improvement over Dan Uggla's.
As far as La Stella's long-term prognosis in Atlanta goes, it's tough to really say.
If he could produce at the level he's produced at through the first two months of his career, he's absolutely a starting second baseman moving forward. Can he keep that on-base percentage high enough so that his lack of power doesn't become a serious issue? We'll see. I think a Martin Prado comparison is a decent one, especially if La Stella is capable of handling third base and/or a corner outfield spot on occasion. But that's something clearly down the road.
For now, La Stella has the starter's job wrapped up for at least this season, and he will be the odds-on favorite to win the starter's job next spring unless Jose Peraza keeps doing absurd things in Double-A. Either way, we can all be thankful Dan Uggla is no longer the Braves' second baseman.
Ben Duronio's Take:
It has been an up and down first half for the Braves offense, especially at the second base position. The Braves started the year off with a guy they benched during the playoff run last year despite having a better option behind him and at least several other comparable options behind him as well. Dan Uggla was awful to start the year and the Braves were for some reason hesitant to call up 25-year-old Tommy La Stella, despite having a skillset that looked like it would translate rather easily over to the major league club.
Fortunately the team came to its senses and called La Stella up about a month and a half before the All-Star break. He has already provided the Braves with 0.9 WAR in just 176 plate appearances. To put it into perspective, over a full season which is around 600 plate appearances, that is about a 3.1 win season -- a very quality rookie campaign. One of the more surprising attributes La Stella has provided has been rather quality defense. The knock on La Stella dating back to when he was drafted was that scouts were unsure if he would be able to remain in the infield and that eventually left field may be where he would end up. With his bat not profiling like a power bat at all, left field is obviously a far from optimal position for him to play regularly. Thankfully it looks like he has made noted improvements in his defense over the course of his minor league career. Maybe that was why the Braves kept him down? Even speculating that is difficult though, because the man he replaced is arguably the worst defensive second baseman to play the position as long as he had.
Aside from better than expected defense, we have seen basically exactly what we were expecting and hoping for out of La Stella when we were all pining for his call up. He has one more strikeout than walk, he has a .292 average with very little power behind it, and has shown a quick bat with a solid up the middle approach. I joked around on twitter the other day that soon the shift against La Stella will be the second baseman and shortstop each standing 5 feet from second base, since it seems like almost all of his plate appearances wind up with a ball lined right through the box.
The similarities between his triple-A and major league stats are incredible. With Gwinnett he hit .293/.384/.359, and with the Braves he is hitting .292/.371/.357. His wRC+ at triple-A was 111 and in the majors so far it is 107. His ISO at triple-A was .066 and his ISO in Atlanta is .065. The move up to the majors has hardly affected him, and after speaking with him in our pre-season interview that is not surprising at all. In the interview he mentioned how important the mental part of the game has been for him and how helpful the mental coaches the Braves have provided him have been to keeping him focused on his skills and the process rather than simply the results. Having a consistent approach has allowed him to find his niche as a player who controls the zone and shortens his swing to keep the line drive rate high.
In fact, among all National League players with at least 170 plate appearances, La Stella ranks 17th in line drive percentage at 25.4%. The only other Brave on the list is Freddie Freeman, who is first at 32.1%. Having that high of a line drive rate will allow him to continue to post high BABIPs and keep his average at worst respectable. Combined with a solid walk rate, it is hard to see many scenarios where La Stella is anything worse than slightly below average offensively. As of now he has hit 7% better than the average major league player despite hitting for almost no power. I don’t expect him to ever hit for much, but even if he develops enough doubles power to be a guy who can ISO between .085 and .100 then he could be one of the better second baseman in the National League.
It is hard not to be excited about La Stella. Not because I think he is going to continue to markedly improve, but because I think he has a chance to be a consistent rock in Braves lineup for a good while to come. The Braves have a lineup full of players who frequently have extremely hot and extremely cold streaks, and La Stella has had one of each as well in his short time, but the skillset to me points to him being eventually very consistent. It is pure speculation, but that’s my personal view on him.
It is unfortunate that La Stella hit his cold streak right when he got moved to the top of the order, because aside from a lack of elite speed he seems like a close to ideal leadoff hitter. He is far from slow, so I do not think speed should be the reason he is kept from the top of the order. I wonder if Fredi would hesitate putting him back to the top of the order eventually because he struggled so much there in the short stint he had as the team’s leadoff man. He is clearly a better option than B.J. Upton, and hopefully he ends up at the top of the order again soon.
Entering the second half, expect more of the same from La Stella. He’ll continue to control the strike zone, take his walks, hit his line drives, and be a guy who we want up with men on base because we know we can count on a solid plate appearance from him almost all of the time.