The sample size isn’t huge and the level of competition hasn‘t been high, but Tommy La Stella’s numbers still have meaning. The Atlanta Braves second-base prospect has hit .327/.412/.496 in 999 plate appearances in three professional seasons. Last season, at Double-A Mississippi, he hit .343.
An eighth-round pick in 2011 out of Coastal Carolina, La Stella is steady. He isn’t flashy, nor does he possess elite tools. What he brings, though, are a combination of solid all-around skills and a disciplined approach. The 25-year old has more walks than strikeouts as a professional.
La Stella talked about his development in the final week of the Arizona Fall League season.
La Stella on what he most needs to improve upon: “I don’t think it’s one thing. It’s not just hitting, or just defense. From talking to the organization, it’s about bettering myself overall as a player. There are things I can do better at the plate and there are things I can do better in the field. Same thing with the base paths. Ultimately you want to have all those things ironed out so when you make it up to the big leagues you can stay there.”
On his defensive game: “It’s improving. There are a lot of things I’m working on [in the AFL]. I’m working on pretty much every aspect of defense. The double-play turns, the range, the arm strength. It’s an ongoing process. I don’t think you ever really stop learning in this game, either offensively or defensively. It’s a process of overall betterment.
“As far as [strengths and weaknesses]… to be completely honest, I don’t really know. I don’t focus more on any one aspect, or get into where I might be deficient or where I’m proficient. I work on everything. When I do get to the big leagues — hopefully — I don’t want there to be anything I didn’t take care of.
“Luis Lopez is our infield coordinator and he’s been instrumental in my development since I signed. I’ve made some huge strides under him. With Luis, everything about defense is incorporated into the drills we do. Probably the biggest thing has been the confidence he’s instilled in me. Confidence is paramount if you’re going to play this game at the highest level.”
On his hitting approach: “I don’t sit pitches, nor do I sit zones. I pretty much just react to what I see. A big thing is making sure I’m not swinging at a ball. It’s difficult enough to hit as it is. When you start expanding the strike zone, it obviously becomes more difficult. Not doing that is a key to my approach. I need to make sure I’m swinging at pitches I can handle.
“Mechanically, I’m fairly upright. I wouldn’t say I’m straight upright, but I’m fairly upright. I’m pretty relaxed with my hands. From there, I pretty much try to see the ball and hit it.”
On plate discipline and power: “I’m pretty happy with where I’m at in that respect. I’d rather take a strike early in the count on a pitch I could maybe put a barrel on than swing at a ball. I don’t want to give the pitcher something he never really should have gotten. I’m a little tentative toward swinging at the edge of the zone.
“I think [power] could become part of my game. I know I have it in there. Speaking to the organization, they agree. It’s a matter of ironing out some things in terms of my swing plane in order to backspin the ball to the right side. I can backspin the ball pretty well to left field.”
On putting the ball in play: “Early in the count… say you’re up 1-0 and get a changeup when you’re sitting on a heater. Don’t slow your bat down to put it in play. Just blow right through it and take it for a strike. Be patient and take your chances on 1-1.
“Later in the at bat, it’s a little different. I’m a big believer in making sure you put the ball in play. If you strike out, the defense doesn’t have to do anything. You don’t get credit toward your on-base percentage if you reach on an error, but at the end of the day, if you’re on base you’re on base. You still credit if you score. It’s not like the run doesn’t count because it doesn’t count for your [OBP]. Force the defense to make a play.”
On his demeanor: “I’m intense when I play. I feel that with intensity comes more focus. That’s important for my game. I have to be as focused as I possibly can to be successful. After the game is over, I’m pretty even-keeled. This game will beat you up if you let it. You go through a lot of 0-for-4s and make some errors, so it’s all about how you come back the next day and respond. The guys who do that well are the ones who stick in the big leagues.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.