Thursday, August 15, 2013

Uggla's Replacement - The Case for the Uninspiring

The news was surprising as it broke shortly before Tuesday's game against the Phillies.  Dan Uggla was headed to the Disabled List and would undergo LASIK, a procedure that he had been hoping to avoid until at least the winter.  Whether the Braves were able to push Uggla into it or Uggla's worsening state at the plate prompted Uggla to finally agree to do it now rather than later is not all that important.

It's unfortunate timing for the Braves, considering it's past the trade deadline.  While there are reports that Uggla is unlikely to miss much time, if any, beyond 15 days, there are few instances to compare to.

In the mean-time, the Braves are going to make do with Tyler Pastornicky.  At least, that's the idea.  Pastornicky met Jason Heyward and sprained his knee Wednesday night.  It's supposed to be minor and he could be only day-to-day.  If he is okay, the Ref has been on the shuttle between Gwinnett and Atlanta for most of the season.  This is already the third time he has been been promoted this season with his big moment of the season coming in June when he had a three-hit game.  Of course, last year, Pastornicky started at shortstop to open the season and was abysmal, more-so with the glove and that's saying something because he slashed .243/.287/.325 last year.

This year with Gwinnett, Pastornicky has slashed .292/.354/.392.  It's actually much closer to his pre-Braves days when he had a decent-to-good walk rate (8.4 BB%), struck out a few times, and an ISO closer to .100.  He sacrificed both walks and strikeouts for more contact with Mississippi and Gwinnett in 2011.  It gave him a higher average but less of a game.  It's debatable if the Braves are truly getting a defensive improvement at second with Pastornicky over Uggla.  He seems better suited for the position, but only has forty innings of work there with the Braves.

Atlanta did have another option.  No, not at AAA. Phillip Gosselin is a decent defender at the position, but is only slashing .277/.327/.346 since his promotion two months ago and carries just a .673 OPS during his four minor league seasons.  The real option was Tommy La Stella, Mississippi's starting second baseman.  Recently, La Stella had a 21-game hit streak in which he OPS'd over 1.000 and his full season numbers are tremendous (.336/.406/.448).  He has shown elite plate discipline throughout his career, walking 98 times to just 79 strikeouts.  He's shown pretty good pop with a career ISO is .165.  Defensively, there are varying reports on his skills with the glove, but he's supposedly average.

The one issue that has plagued La Stella the last two seasons have been injuries.  Difficult to include yourself into a long-term picture for the organization when you struggle to stay in the lineup.  After 85 games played last year, he's played just 70 this season, missing both the start of the season and a few weeks in June.

For the time being, the Braves have chosen to go with Pastornicky. With Uggla unlikely to miss significant time, it seemed like the easy choice.  Rather than start La Stella's clock and put him on the 40-man roster ahead of time, they simply brought in a guy with experience who had zero issues as far as contractual details go.  La Stella has two years to stake his claim to the second base job.  He wasn't going to that over the next two weeks.  When you think about it, making the move for Pastornicky over La Stella was a no-brainer.

Things can change quickly.  If Pastornicky needs to go the DL, the Braves will need to make a move.  There is a misconception that the Braves have 40-man issues.  They really don't.  Once a player is transferred to the 60-day DL, he is removed from the 40-man roster.  Tim Hudson, Cristhian Martinez, and Ramiro Pena are definitely out for the season.  Anyone of those three can be transferred to the 60-day DL.  If the Braves need to bring up a middle infielder, even if they are keeping their options open on the trade market, the Braves have the flexibility to create a spot for either Gosselin or La Stella.

But if Pastornicky is fine, the Braves will be just fine with him and not La Stella.  It's the sensible decision.


  1. La Stella's stats are sick and he's already 24, what's the point of letting him toil in AA when you have a second baseman that's struggled to stay above the Mendoza line since Day 1. This guy has Martin Prado written all over him. Prado had to sit behind a declining Marcus Giles and an average Kelly Johnson before he got his shot, but he turned out to be the better player. I think La Stella is better than Uggla and Pastornicky right now.

    1. I agree on being La Stella being better than Pastornicky, disagree about Uggla. At least, right now. That's not to say La Stella won't be a solid major league bat, but he's struggled to stay in the lineup (though some of that might be attributed to freak injuries) and he hasn't proven a single thing above AA ball. Rather than push him to the majors for a two-week trail run in which he would have to go all Puig to take Uggla's job, I'm definitely for sending him to AAA for the rest of the season to get some experience against the junkballers. His time would seem more likely to come in 2015 if the Braves cut bait on Uggla like they did Lowe-style. Either way, the Braves are committed to Uggla for the foreseeable future. Hopefully, LASIK helps him produce a much higher clip.

      In the mean time, may as well stay with Pastornicky, who has experience and none of the contractual issues like worrying about starting his clock/hitting arbitration early. Course, if Pastornicky does need to head to the DL, maybe a move to La Stella wouldn't be the worst idea because I definitely would rather see him over Gosselin.

      Thanks for your comment.