Tommy La Stella is learning not only a new team but a new position.
The sophomore second baseman, who the Cubs acquired from the Atlanta Braves in an offseason trade for pitcher Arodys Vizcaino, is getting a shot at the hot corner – the one starting position on the team that is seemingly up for grabs this spring.
It is a big adjustment for La Stella, who has only played second base in the pros, both in the big leagues and the Minor Leagues. But the 26-year-old newcomer knows that making himself more versatile will make him more indispensable in the eyes of the Cubs.
Since the trade in November, he told MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat, he’s been practicing at third. “It takes a second to get used to, but luckily they gave me the heads up, so I’ve been able to work out over there for several months,” he told Muskat.
After the Cubs traded Luis Valbuena, their primary third baseman the last two seasons, along with relief pitcher Dan Straily, to the Houston Astros for outfielder Dexter Fowler, the third base job became wide open – at least for the short-term, until Kris Bryant, the team’s No.1 prospect, is deemed big league ready. The only other strong contender to play third is Mike Olt, who struggled at the plate and with the glove in his brief tryout at the position at the start of last season.
Third would seem to be the best chance for La Stella to get regular play, though he could push the free-swinging Javier Baez at second for playing time. An eighthround pick of the Braves in the 2011 draft, La Stella played in 93 games for them in his rookie 2014 seasons, hitting .251 with one homer and 31 RBI.
Baseball analysts, maybe surprisingly, show it to be somewhat of a toss-up between the lefty contact hitter La Stella and the righty slugger Baez.
Bleacher Nation noted that for 2015, Steamer projects La Stella at .265/.334/.357, with a .310 wOBA and a 97 wRC+, which compares fairly evenly with the projections for Baez: 226/.280/.420 next year, with a .307 wOBA and 92 wRC+ for 2015.
“All in all,” Bleacher Nation concluded, “and speaking only of 2015 for now, La Stella does look like a guy you’d be comfortable starting at second base…”
Cubs Insider essentially agreed, observing: “The risk associated with La Stella is much lower than that with Baez, but so is the potential reward.”
What La Stella gives the Cubs, either as a regular player or off the bench, is somebody who can get on base, something the team has been sorely lacking. The Cubs ranked 28th in baseball with a .300 on-base percentage last season.
“We tried to trade for him several times in the past,” general manager Jed Hoyer said after the deal was complete. “He’s left-handed, gets on base, and doesn’t strike out a lot. Those are three things we need.”
La Stella, a New Jersey native, appears eager about the opportunity that lies ahead.
“It’s very exciting,” La Stella said in an interview with his hometown newspaper, The Record. “You think about the history of the organization and how long it’s been for that team and those fans and the fact that we’re making the moves to build a team to hopefully be a contender in the not too distant future. It’s exciting, not only for myself and the guys on the team, but the fan base that’s been so loyal to the Cubs for so long.”