Cubs manager Joe Maddon once nicknamed Tommy La Stella “3 AM” because he felt that La Stella could "get up at 3 a.m., get out of bed and hit." He might soon be calling La Stella “the one that got away.”
La Stella had another big night Monday in Minnesota, going 3-for-5 while clubbing a home run and scoring a pair of runs in the Angels’ 5-4 victory over the Twins. The long ball was the 30-year-old’s 10th of the season, which leads the team.
Yes, the guy who entered this season with 10 career home runs over 947 plate appearances has already doubled that total this year in just 122 plate appearances. He never reached double-digit home runs in the minors, either.
So what’s changed? Well, La Stella is getting an extended chance to play, which never really happened with the Cubs (his career high in plate appearances with them was 192). He’s also hitting the ball in the air more than ever (38.9 percent flyball rate entering Monday) and hitting it harder than ever (43.3 percent hard-hit rate entering Monday).
It’s no surprise that the Angels were interested in La Stella, as their hitters are known for their ability to make contact and that’s the infielder’s biggest strength. La Stella boasts a 9.8 percent walk rate and just a 6.6 percent strikeout rate this season. He has a 10.1 percent walk rate and 11.9 percent strikeout rate for his career.
While it’s fair to expect La Stella to slow down in the power department, he should be due some more luck when it comes to average. The left-handed swinger is batting a relatively pedestrian .272 even after Monday’s three-hit effort, but that’s come with a lowly .212 BABIP. If La Stella can keep his hard-hit rate above 40 percent while maintaining his normal high contact rates, it’s going to be very difficult for him to not hit for a good average.
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Mercado, Lopez Promoted
Two American League Central teams are ready to get a look at one of their prospects. Fantasy owners might be wise to give them a shot, as well.
According to Mandy Bell of MLB.com, the Indians will recall outfi9eld prospect Oscar Mercado prior to Tuesday’s game against the White Sox. He’s expected to take the roster spot of Tyler Naquin, who has been battling tightness in his left calf.
Mercado was acquired from the Cardinals last July and impressed manager Terry Francona during spring training. He finished with a .400/.415/.750 line with three homers and a stolen base in 21 Cactus League games, numbers so good that the Tribe seemed to at least entertain the idea of carrying Mercado on the Opening Day roster.
“Well, he worked so hard in the offseason, trying to kind of revamp his swing,” Francona said in March. “Obviously, it’s paying dividends. I mean this kid's -- I don’t care if it’s Spring Training or not, he’s swinging the bat really well. Tremendous defensive outfielder, very good baserunner. I mean, he’s got speed, but I think he’s also an intelligent baserunner. There’s just a lot to like about him.”
Mercado’s strong spring carried over into a nice start with Triple-A Columbus, as he’s sporting a .294/.396/.496 batting line with four home runs and 14 stolen bases over 140 plate appearances. He also had a strong .278/.349/.390 line with eight dingers and 37 steals last season in his first taste of Triple-A.
Mercado’s calling card is his defense and his speed, and it’s in the stolen base department where he has the most potential to help fantasy owners. The speedster has swiped a whopping 210 bases over 626 games in the minors and should get the green light from day one in Cleveland.
It’s fair to question whether Mercado is ready to hit at the big league level, but he has shown steady progress with the bat in the minors, including posting a nice 11.4 percent walk rate in 2019. He’s primarily a center fielder but can play all three outfield spots and might do that with the Tribe. Naquin, Carlos Gonzalez and Leonys Martin have all been feeble with the bat this season, so Mercado certainly has an opportunity to stick around for the long haul if he performs.
Nicky Lopez should also have a shot to stay in the majors if he plays well. After all, the Royals are relocating one of their best players in order to accommodate him.
Lopez will make his major league debut Tuesday against the Rangers and is slated to take over as the Royals’ primary second baseman, with Whit Merrifield moving to the outfield. Merrifield is slated to mostly play in right field, with Jorge Soler sliding in the designated hitter spot.
Lopez had a breakout season last year, putting up a .308/.382/.417 batting line with nine homers and 15 steals between Double- and Triple-A. He’s been even better so far this year at Triple-A Omaha with a .353/.457/.500 line with three long balls and nine stolen bases. The 24-year-old has also posted an absurd 5/20 K/BB ratio over 138 plate appearances.
It’s the plate discipline that makes Lopez so intriguing, with general manager Dayton Moore referring to the infielder’s contact rates as “unbelievable” and also how his numbers at Omaha “speaks of his readiness.”
Players with great bat control like Lopez do indeed usually have the best shot at immediate big league success, although it’s no slam dunk to happen (just ask Luis Urias). He could also help out fantasy owners a bit in the stolen base department and should soon have multi-position eligibility, if he doesn’t already. Lopez, like Mercado, is worth scooping up in 12+ team leagues.
National League Quick Hits: Cesar Hernandez homered, reached base three times and scored three runs in the Phillies’ victory over the Brewers on Monday. … Lorenzo Cain went 5-for-6 with an RBI, a run scored and a stolen base on Monday in Philadelphia. … Ryan Braun (hamstring) missed a third straight start Monday, but he had a pinch-hit single and is expected to be back in the lineup Tuesday. … David Robertson (elbow) will be shut down for the next three weeks following a visit with Dr. James Andrews. … Fernando Tatis Jr. (hamstring) is not yet running at full speed. … The Rockies are expected to option Garrett Hampson to Triple-A Albuquerque prior to Tuesday's game in Boston.
American League Quick Hits: Carlos Rodon (elbow) will undergo Tommy John surgery this week. … Yoan Moncada went 3-for-4 with a pair of homers as the White Sox topped the Indians. … The Yankees placed Miguel Andujar back on the 10-day injured list due to his nagging right shoulder labrum tear. … Nelson Cruz sat out Monday with a left wrist injury, but an MRI came back clean and he will avoid the IL for now. … Eloy Jimenez (ankle) will begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Charlotte on Tuesday. … Shohei Ohtani went 2-for-3, hit his first homer and walked twice Monday as the Angels edged the Twins. … Reynaldo Lopez picked up a win after allowing two runs -- one earned -- in 7 2/3 innings Monday against the Indians. … Francisco Lindor was the Indians offense on Monday, going 2-for-2 with a homer, two RBI and a walk. … Kyle Seager (hand) will begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Tacoma on Tuesday. … Jonathan Loaisiga will be shut down for four weeks after being diagnosed with a right rotator cuff strain. … The A’s designated Kendrys Morales for assignment.