Although most of our readers seem to believe that Mike Olt is likely to begin the season as the Chicago Cubs’ starting third baseman, he has some competition in infielder Tommy La Stella, who spent the winter learning more about the position.
La Stella, who was acquired in the trade that sent hard-throwing right-hander Arodys Vizcaino back to the Atlanta Braves, has exclusively played second base during his professional career to this point. After joining the Cubs organization, in an effort to increase his value and versatility, La Stella began taking reps at the hot corner – an effort that has continued this spring.
The 26-year-old former eighth-round pick is in his first camp with Chicago after spending his entire career with the Braves. Last season with Atlanta, La Stella appeared in 93 games, batting .251/.328/.317 to go along with his 16 doubles and 31 runs batted in.
After the trade to Chicago last November, La Stella said he was told that he may need to do more than play second base if he hoped to earn a roster spot with the Cubs in the spring.
"“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 MLB.com recently."
As pointed out in the above MLB.com article, La Stella fits the mold of both Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and first-year manager Joe Maddon in the sense that he gets on base – a lot. During his career in the minor leagues, spanning four years, he has a .409 on-base percentage – including a .422 mark at the Double-A level and a .384 clip with Triple-A Gwinnet.
While he gets on base at an astounding rate, La Stella isn’t exactly a run producer. He’s never driven in more than 59 runs in a single season – but most some infielders aren’t in the lineup every day to drive in runs. With the likes of Jorge Soler, Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and others already in there every day, Chicago doesn’t necessarily need a run-producing machine at third base this season (although they’ll likely get one once Bryant reaches the Windy City).
The team, as mentioned, has another option in Olt – who struggled at the plate with the Cubs during the 2014 season. He showcased just what made him such a highly-touted talent in the past with the Texas Rangers, clobbering a handful of home runs – but striking out at an alarmingly-high rate.
That being said, Olt seemed to figure something out late in the season with Triple-A Iowa, batting .302/.348/.585 in a limited sample size of 28 games. If he can show that his strides made last season with Iowa weren’t a fluke, he stands a very solid chance of breaking camp with the big league club.
As for Tommy La Stella, there’s no guarantee he even makes the Major League roster out of Spring Training. With Olt as an option at third and Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez both vying for time at second base, he may prove to be the odd man out.
But for now, it’s game on.