La Stella's contact bat makes infielder a solid prospect
Braves' 24-year-old rarely strikes out, gets uniform dirty in Arizona Fall League
At the age of 24, Tommy La Stella is a bit older than most of his teammates playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. But the Braves second-base prospect is still fun to watch.
La Stella gets his uniform dirty. He plays the game hard and gets the most of his abilities. At 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, the left-handed-hitting La Stella has the frame of a middle infielder. What he lacks in size and strength, he makes up in hustle and intensity.
La Stella was a first team All-New Jersey baseball player at Saint Joseph Regional High School in Montvale, N.J. As a junior, he hit .542 with five home runs. As a senior, La Stella hit .525 with six home runs and 38 RBIs.
La Stella played briefly for St. John's University before he transferred to Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C. As a college transfer, he had to sit out his sophomore season. As a junior, La Stella made his mark, earning the 2011 Big South Player of the Year Award.
The Braves selected La Stella in the eighth round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. Now in his third season as a professional, he is No. 14 on Atlanta's Top 20 Prospects list.
La Stella won't win an honor as the greatest athlete on the field. But he's the guy you want as a teammate. La Stella has an exceptional ability to put the bat on the ball and not strike out. He makes things happen. He gets a rally going or keeps it rolling.
La Stella is a natural hitter with an advanced and polished approach at the plate. He's a hitter first, a defender second. La Stella can provide his club with a very efficient contact bat and average defense at second base.
In his first season as a professional, La Stella played for Rome in the Class A South Atlantic League. He struck out only 28 times in 270 plate appearances while hitting .328 with nine homers.
Amazingly, the most La Stella has ever struck out in a season is 35 times. That happened this past season at Class A Advanced Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi in 353 plate appearances. That's outstanding contact hitting.
La Stella also knows the value of accepting a base on balls. It's among his greatest strengths. In the Fall League, I have seen him work the pitcher deep into counts and wait for a pitch he can drive. La Stella has a nice, short stroke with a goal of hitting the gaps. He has some surprising power that continues to emerge.
La Stella's combination of making exceptional contact and using plate discipline and patience while recognizing pitches quickly creates a hitting tool that has resulted in a very consistent and solid .327 career Minor League batting average.
A lack of speed reflects La Stella's weakest tool. Though he doesn't run with great speed, he's quick enough and has enough expertise to steal a few bases. La Stella will get the job done, effectively and efficiently running the bases. His speed, or lack thereof, is not a liability. It just isn't a strength.
La Stella profiles as an average defender. He can make all the routine plays. La Stella won't cost his team runs with mental errors. However, he may not get to all the balls a quicker second baseman might reach.
The gritty La Stella is a solid all-around player worthy of watching carefully.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.