The Atlanta Braves have an enigma on their hands. Actually they have two, but I only want to discuss one here. Well maybe it’s too early to say they have two.
Okay, one of the enigmas (the one I don’t want to talk about here) is B.J. Upton. But as stated earlier, perhaps it’s too early to call him an enigma. After all, it has only been one season. I mean, 162 games is surely not nearly long enough for a so-called professional athlete to figure out how to do what he has been doing his entire life, right?
Oh wait. Yes, yes it is.
But let’s put Upton on the shelf for now. Dan Uggla is a much more pressing issue for the Braves. The eight-year veteran is scheduled to make $13 million in each of the last two years of his contract, making him the third-highest paid player on the team behind the Upton brothers (pending Brian McCann not accepting the $14.1 million qualifying contract Atlanta has extended to him). Since joining the team in 2011, Uggla has been worth pennies on every dollar given him, hitting .233, .220 and .179 in 2011, 2012 and 2013 respectively.
Uggla’s stat lines since becoming a Brave bemoan days bygone. While with the Miami Marlins, the stout second baseman hit a combined .263 with 154 home runs (a 30.8 per season average) and 465 RBIs (an average of 93 per season) – outstanding offensive production considering his defensive position. But that Uggla is a remnant of the past, a fleeting memory, something the Braves have never known.
But unlike the dilemma they face with B.J. Upton, there is a ready remedy to the Uggla enigma and his name is Tommy LaStella.
The 24-year old LaStella, who is currently the second baseman for Double-A Mississippi, could well replace Uggla at the major league level before the start of the season. The leading contribution to Uggla’s demise is his striking inability to make contact; he has struck out less than 150 times in a season only once in his career (2010, his last season with Florida, which happened to be his most successful). LaStella, on the other hand, is the epitome of a contact hitter.
In his minor league career, LaStella has struck out just 88 times in 999 plate appearances while posting a .327 career batting average. His detractors cite his lack of speed and power as weaknesses, but his penchant for contact will likely far outweigh any shortages he has in the way of base-stealing or home run-hitting ability. Success is entirely relative, but needless to say LaStella is likely to provide a steep upgrade in offensive production (and aptitude) from Uggla.
LaStella will make contact. LaStella will not strikeout. LaStella will give the Braves the sort of hitter that can develop into a top of the lineup, Dustin Pedroia-like hitter. Uggla will not, and I fully expect to see LaStella on the Braves’ opening day roster. And if I could be so bold: I expect to see him in the starting lineup as well.