This has turned into another lost season for the Angels, who have slid to 64-70 and sit 13 games behind the second wild-card spot in the American League. Nevertheless, even when a team’s out of contention, it’s always a welcome sight when one of its top contributors is nearing a return from a long-term injury. That’s the case for infielder Tommy La Stella, whose dream season came to a halt July 3 after he suffered a brutal injury – a fractured tibia in his right leg. But La Stella’s now slated to take batting practice on the field for the first time Friday, Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com relays, adding that the 30-year-old is “hopeful” he’ll make it back during the Angels’ Sept. 9-15 homestand.
Before La Stella landed on the IL, he had emerged as one of baseball’s best low-cost pickups of last offseason. The Angels acquired La Stella from the Cubs for a meager return in late November, at which point he had combined to hit a useful but modest .264/.345/.366 with 10 home runs in 947 plate appearances between Chicago and Atlanta. This year’s version of La Stella has been vastly superior to the player who showed up from 2014-18.
Since joining the Angels, the lefty-swinging La Stella has slashed .300/.353/.495 with 16 HRs across 312 trips to the plate, owing in part to a remarkable ability to avoid strikeouts. The first-time All-Star has gone down on strikes just 8.7 percent of the time this season, making him a key reason why the Halos’ offense boasts the game’s second-lowest K rate. While La Stella hasn’t packed a wallop on the many occasions he has made contact (his average exit velocity of 87.9 mph and hard-hit rate rank near the bottom of the league, per Statcast), he has nonetheless mustered a respectable .352 expected weighted on-base average that almost matches his real wOBA of .362.
Along with breaking out at the plate, La Stella has provided the Angels 30-plus appearances at both second and third. And he could again serve as a versatile and affordable part of their roster next season. La Stella’s scheduled to go through arbitration for the final time in the offseason, when he’ll collect a raise on this year’s relatively cheap $1.35MM salary. Barring changes over the winter, La Stella may rejoin David Fletcher to comprise the Angels’ primary options at second and third in 2020.