Tommy La Stella isn’t among the top prospects in this year’s AFL. However, that doesn’t mean he won’t have an opportunity to make an impact in the major leagues by the end of the 2014 season.
Selected by the Atlanta Braves in the eighth round in the 2011 draft out of Coastal Carolina University, La Stella has enjoyed a relatively quick ascent through the minor leagues despite struggling to stay healthy.
The left-handed hitter has raked at every level, posting a .944 OPS at Low-A Rome after signing in 2011, .846 OPS at High-A Lynchburg in 2012 and .936 OPS between High-A and Double-A Mississippi this past season.
La Stella doesn’t offer much in terms of over-the-fence pop with 20 combined home runs in the last three seasons; however, he’s proven to be a consistent source of extra-base hits with 70 doubles and triples during that span. Meanwhile, his plate discipline—which has always been his calling card—has translated favorably as a professional, as he’s amassed more walks (111) than strikeouts (88).
However, injuries have limited the 24-year-old to only 241 games over the last three seasons. In 2012, he missed time at Lynchburg after getting beaned and then landed on the disabled list for six weeks after breaking his leg in a collision at first base while covering on a bunt. This year, he spent most of spring training on the disabled list with a sore right elbow.
When healthy, La Stella has shown a projectable blend of hit tool and plate discipline that has the potential to play at the highest level. Though he lacks the speed typically associated with the middle-infield position and profiles as an average defender, the 24-year-old gets the most of his natural ability and should hit well enough to negate some of those concerns.
While Dan Uggla may be the highest-paid player on the Braves’ active roster, the organization proved it will not settle for his lousy production when he was left off the team’s NLDS roster against the Los Angeles Dodgers. And considering the demand to promote La Stella this past season when Uggla landed on the 15-day disabled list, expect the Braves to give him a long look next spring.