In the midst of multiple positive reports surrounding Atlanta Braves second-base prospect Tommy LaStella, it’s been tough to find a negative word about him in “Braves Country”. However, ESPN’s scouting guru, Keith Law, unleashed a fairly scathing review of La Stella in his latest column ($) surrounding the Arizona Fall League, and here’s a quick look at what he had to say.
It’s not so much that anything was wrong with La Stella but that you’re banking on one tool here, the hit tool. He’s a fringy defender at best and a below-average runner, and I don’t foresee much power with a no-load swing and a flat finish.
He can hit, though — his hand-eye coordination is very good, and the swing is simple and hard, like a quick hack at the ball that could produce line drives and hard ground balls, but few hits likely to leave the park. That might be enough for Atlanta fans sick of the Dan Uggla Show — just two more years, folks! — but it’s more average regular than star.
Immediately, my reaction was visceral toward Law, as it has been assumed (widely) that La Stella will be competing for the 2014 second base job if Dan Uggla, and his contract, are jettisoned. However, upon further review, it is reasonably tough to dispute any of Law’s claims.
He is publicly high on La Stella’s “hit tool” (i.e. the ability to simply hit for average), and that is basically the only tool that most reports on La Stella seem to focus on. He hit for a .343/.422/.473 slash line in 323 plate appearances at double-A this season, and while that is very, very good for a second baseman, the power numbers aren’t exciting. In those 323 PA’s, the 24-year-old (not exactly young by prospect standards) hit only 7 home runs, and it appears that his positive slugging numbers come mostly from a robust (and unsustainable) .343 batting average helped by a .380 BABIP.
With the lack of MiLB statistics on fielding and base-running, we have to take the scout’s word on players for the most part, unless we have the benefit of our own “eye” test. Law’s semi-negative of La Stella’s legs and glove aren’t surprising, and the glove was perceived as the main reason that we saw the less-heralded Phil Gosselin for 4 games during 2013. In addition, La Stella has had issues staying on the field, falling short of 100 games in each of his first 2 full seasons in pro ball.
On the whole, it’s tough to give too negative of a take on a guy who posted an OPS of .895 at the second base position in a quality minor league. Law’s focus is a good reminder, though, that we shouldn’t raise expectations to unearned heights on La Stella, and that simply an “upgrade” on the current disaster (Dan Uggla, for reference) doesn’t make La Stella’s future a sure thing.