The Cubs surprised the baseball world yesterday by picking up yet another young middle infielder, 25-year-old Tommy La Stella from the Braves. Of course, that surprise looks fairly quaint after today’s activity, but it’s still something interesting – and positive! – to look at this afternoon.
Here’s a little more on that trade, and on the Cubs’ new
second baseman utility guy depth piece baseball player:
- You can read GM Jed Hoyer’s initial comments on the deal here at ESPN, which sound like what you’d expect: the Cubs had targeted him for a long time, loving his combination of on-base ability, low strikeout totals, and lefty bat. The trade was not a precursor to anything, and was instead just a matter of the Cubs trading from an area of depth to pick up a guy they liked, who does some things they could use. How he fits into the equation positionally will sort itself out later. Just get the guy first.
- Just about everything you read on the Atlanta side of the deal is about the international bonus pool slots the Braves picked up – about $830,000 net, because they sent a small slot back to the Cubs, in addition to receiving three larger slots from the Cubs – with Arodys Vizcaino talked about like a throw-in. As we’ve discussed before, the value of even $1 million in pool space is likely not very significant, and I’d like to think Braves management sees Vizcaino as the bigger get, even if the media there doesn’t. In any case, to the extent the pool space – virtually useless to the Cubs – was a major component of the deal to the Braves, then even better on the Cubs for using it well.
- The other big reason for the trade, at least based on the vibe those articles and other Internetting provides, is that the Braves are content to open up second base for their top positional prospect, Jose Peraza.
- Those same pieces out of Atlanta hang a bit on the idea that La Stella was hot out of the gate for the Braves, but cool later in the year, falling out of favor with the team (the Braves.com piece and the AJC piece both mention the same 47-game “cool” stretch in the second half for La Stella). Once again, I sure hope Braves management doesn’t put that much stock in a mere 40 or 50-game sample. Setting aside the problem of arbitrary endpoints – we all do it – that “cool” 47-game stretch for La Stella looked like this: .201/.281/.253 with a .221 BABIP. He still took his walks (10.8% walk rate), still didn’t strike out (10.8% strikeout rate), and still hit enough line drives (21.2%). As near as I can tell, the only thing that changed in that second half is that La Stella started making a ton more contact in and out of the zone (from 80.8% contact rate to 89.2% contact rate), but it’s not like he was swinging a ton more out of the zone – he was actually swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone. He simply hit a few more fly balls and fewer line drives, which could easily just be a small sample size issue. Couple that with what appears to be serious bad luck on the BABIP and you’ve got a guy whose peripherals looked intriguingly good all year long. The more you look, the more you see a guy who could easily be a .280/.355/.380 hitter if the BABIP rebounds. No, that’s not a star, but it’s an above-average bat, especially in terms of getting on base.
- For 2015, Steamer projects La Stella at .265/.334/.357, with a .310 wOBA and a 97 wRC+. League average at second base in 2014 was just .250/.307/.364, with a .298 wOBA and 88 wRC+. Yes, Steamer says La Stella projects to be a far better hitter than the typical second baseman. And, I’m not saying anything, because I am still thoroughly in Javier Baez’s corner, but I just want to provide the context here: Steamer projects Baez at .226/.280/.420 next year, with a .307 wOBA and 92 wRC+ for 2015.
- All in all, and speaking only of 2015 for now, La Stella does look like a guy you’d be comfortable starting at second base – and feeling no worse for the wear – if some other move does happen this offseason, opening up second base (either because Baez is dealt, or Starlin Castro is dealt and Baez slides to short). I’m not saying I expect that to happen. I’m just saying that I’m even more intrigued today by La Stella’s starter upside than I was on a first evaluation yesterday.
- La Stella’s minor league numbers are excellent, as you’d expect for a college bat playing against younger competition (though the speed with which he moved through the minors was impressive): .322/.407/.474 over just about 1200 minor league plate appearances. He walked 136 times while striking out just 102 times. He nearly had as many extra-base hits (98) as strikeouts. That’s usually the measure of a super-elite hitter in the minors, but La Stella’s numbers there come mostly from his super-elite contact ability.
- Prior to the 2014 season, La Stella ranked as the Braves’ 9th best prospect to Baseball America (reading the Handbook), just behind now Cubs catching prospect Victor Caratini. BA’s description at the time is what you’d expect, given the numbers: excellent hand-eye coordination and excellent plate discipline. Defensively, he was described as capable of making the routine plays at second base, but it doesn’t sound like a strength.
- Baseball Prospectus was a pretty strong believer in La Stella’s ability to be a future regular in the big leagues (prior to the 2014 season), seeing upside to be an above-average starter. He sounds like a good makeup/baseball instincts guy, but is lacking in overall athleticism/speed/defensive ability/arm. The hit tool, however, comes in for tons of praise. I’m so seeing why he’s been a Cubs target for a while.
- John Sickels had La Stella all the way up at number 2 before the season, suggesting he was one of the most underrated prospects in baseball.
- La Stella’s consensus ranking at BTB was 7 before the 2014 season, though you should keep in mind that the Braves’ system is in the bottom half of baseball.
- What To Expect: Braves 2B Tommy La Stella – BaseballAmerica.com.
- A forlorn Braves fan put together a video love note to La Stella in the form of some highlights. So, if you didn’t pay attention to many Braves games this year, you can check this out: