Tommy La Stella’s long-awaited promotion has arrived.
The Atlanta Braves promoted their second base prospect from Triple-A Gwinnett to the major league club on Wednesday afternoon in an effort to shore up a position of need for the team this season. Atlanta created a spot on the 25-man roster by optioning infielder Tyler Pastornicky to Gwinnett.
La Stella will make his MLB debut at Fenway Stadium in Boston, as he will start at second base and hit in the No. 7 spot against the Red Sox on Wednesday night.
The 25-year-old La Stella, Atlanta’s eighth-round draft pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, has been one of the most discussed prospects in the Braves system over the past two seasons after hitting a career .322/.407/.474 in four minor league seasons. This season at Gwinnett, La Stella is batting .293 with a .384 on-base percentage — he hit his first home run of the 2014 season on Tuesday night, just hours before the call-up.
Following incumbent starter Dan Uggla’s continued decline, the Braves have employed a platoon situation at second base for the month of May, giving more and more plate appearances to Pastornicky and Ramiro Pena. The effect was negligible, though, as every second baseman on the MLB roster is playing below replacement level entering Wednesday’s game at Fenway Park.
The Braves have received worse production out of the second base position than any other team in baseball outside of the San Diego Padres this season, hitting a collective .177/.258/.270 with just four home runs and 49 weighted runs created. That’s the lowest slugging percentage and tied for the lowest batting average and, coupled that with below-average defensive production (minus-3 defensive runs saved), it was a substantial hole for a franchise still searching for consistent offensive production.
The Braves have scored just 175 runs in 2014, the third-worst mark in baseball.
La Stella’s strength is considered his bat, but Gwinnett manager Brian Snitker said last week that the former Coastal Carolina star has worked diligently on his defense with positive results. Depending on how the Braves plan to utilize La Stella from here on out — either as the full-time starter or as a member of this current platoon situation — he’s expected to bring some semblance of consistency to the lineup, even if it’s at the back of the order.
The move appears to be yet another step toward the end of Uggla’s tenure as a starter with the Braves, although MLB.com’s Mark Bowman writes that he will remain on the roster. Uggla is still signed through 2015 from his five-year, $62 million he inked back in 2011, but he’s started just seven games in May, he’s hitting a career-worst .177/.254/.257 with just two home runs in 126 plate appearances and his value with the glove is diminished. The Braves plans for Uggla remain unclear, but bringing up his potential successor is not a positive sign for his future in Atlanta.