La Stella can only improve situation at second

sports@macon.comMay 31, 2014 

APTOPIX Braves Red Sox Baseball

Atlanta Braves second baseman Tommy La Stella takes a late throw after a wild pitch by relief pitcher Anthony Varvaro, as Boston Red Sox’s Xander Bogaerts, right, slides in safely to take second in the eighth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. The Red Sox won 4-0.

ELISE AMENDOLA — AP

Tommy La Stella has never been known as a good defensive player. So to those who have seen him play, the issues he had at second base Thursday night in Boston were not a surprise.

Yes, it’s a problem to have someone at second who doesn’t have a good glove, but it’s not like Joe Morgan has been over there anytime recently. That has been an issue for a while for the Braves.

But the one thing that is always said about La Stella is the reason he’s now in the starting lineup. It’s mentioned by every single person who has watched him in the minors.

“That kid can hit.”

That is exactly what the Braves need right now. They don’t need a power hitter. They do need someone who can drive in some runs once in a while with runners in scoring position, but they need to get runners in scoring position first. And heck, it’s not like La Stella has to do great to be better than his predecessors.

The Braves second basemen (Dan Uggla, Ramiro Pena and Tyler Pastornicky) had combined for a .165 batting average this season before La Stella took over Wednesday night.

La Stella has four hits in his first 12 at-bats. He has also walked twice. It’s only four games, but a .333 batting average and a .429 on-base percentage is a very nice start. Sure, it’s a small sample size, but it’s a very nice start.

The 25-year-old La Stella first got a reputation as a hitter in college. He actually started out at St. John’s but transferred to Coastal Carolina, wanting more playing time. After sitting out the 2009 season with the redshirt due to the transfer rules, he came back and hit .378 in 2010 for the Chanticleers. Then in his senior season, La Stella hit .398 and hit 14 home runs. His career batting average in college was .384.

That got the Braves’ attention. They took him in the eighth round of the 2011 draft. And ever since he entered pro ball, La Stella has just kept hitting.

When he left the minors Tuesday night, La Stella’s career batting average was .322 and his on-base percentage was .407.

Who knows how well La Stella will do, but he’ll certainly get his shot to stay at second base. The Braves had given Uggla every possible chance to get on track, but, unlike La Stella, Uggla just couldn’t hit.

Uggla’s story has to be one of the strangest in Braves history. He had a .263 batting average in his five years with the then-Florida Marlins and had averaged 30.8 home runs per season. But in his first three seasons in Atlanta, Uggla hit .221 and averaged 25.6 home runs per year.

He actually had his career best in homers in his first season with the Braves when he hit 36, but he hit only 41 in 2012 and 2013 combined.

The lack of power was part of the problem. Uggla had only two home runs this season and looked like he had only warning track power. If he had kept hitting home runs, the Braves might have been able to live with him for a while -- as their Dave Kingman, so to speak. But even Kingman had a .236 lifetime batting average. Uggla’s is down to .211 in his Atlanta career.

The Braves might have a better long-term complete player than La Stella in the minors with Jose Peraza, who is tearing up the Carolina League at 20 years old with a .324 batting average and 26 stolen bases. Plus, Peraza has a solid glove. But let’s see what La Stella can do first, since he can’t do much worse. And at the least, he might have gotten Uggla out of the picture for good.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at www.twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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