Angels infielder Tommy La Stella has revitalized his career in Anaheim, but has he done enough for the Halos to re-sign him?
It took seven years (five in the majors) and three teams before Tommy La Stella found a home. Now that he has one, he stands on the cusp of having to look for another one.
Drafted in the eighth round by the Atlanta Braves in 2011, La Stella lacked the traditional tools that make prospects into scouting darlings. Speed, no. Power, not at the time. Projectable frame, not quite. However, what he did have was a grittiness that allowed him to make an impression even without those tools.
Coming up through the Braves system, he was recognized for his advanced hitting ability, even without the coveted power tool. As discussed by Baseball Prospectus in 2014, La Stella had a gift at the plate.
"“With bat-to-ball ability that can make scouts swoon, La Stella is a naturally gifted hitter who can hit all types of pitches in all parts of the strike zone, and he doesn’t have any trouble catching up to premium velocity. Hitting comes easy to La Stella and he has a chance to approach a .300 average, supplemented by a healthy number of walks that will boost his on-base percentage.”"
For the most part, La Stella showed that profile during his first several years in the league. Prior to arriving in Anaheim, he owned a lifetime .264/.345/.366 batting line with a total of 10 home runs, 96 walks, and 119 strikeouts. While solid, it also held him back a bit, limiting him to back-up roles as a utility infielder.
And then the Angels came along.
On November 29, 2018, the Halos sent a player to be named later to the Chicago Cubs for La Stella and the team immediately made him their starting second baseman. For his part, La Stella has rewarded the Angels handsomely.
In 80 games and 321 plate appearances last season, La Stella maintained his bat-to-ball skills, striking out in just 8.7% of his plate appearances while walking in 6.2%. However, offseason work to increase his strength and focus more on lifting the ball resulted in an uptick in home runs, with La Stella tallying 16 long balls before an injury prematurely ended his season.
Entering the 2020 season, the Angels were looking for more of the same, with La Stella figuring prominently into their plans. The question though is whether he fits into their plans past the 2020 season. A free agent after the season, the Angels will have a hard choice to make when it comes to re-signing La Stella or letting him move on to a fourth team.
Let’s examine that choice for a minute.