One by one, they've arrived on the big stage. Former first-round Draft picks and international signees who are expected to become Major League stars in short order. Kids who have Hall of Fame expectations placed on them before they unpack their duffle bags. Fair or unfair, this is reality for a select few. Guys like George Springer, Oscar Taveras and Gregory Polanco, just to name a few. They'll rejuvenate the fanbase. They'll awaken a dormant offense. They'll give a club a shot in the arm as we head towards the All-Star break.
Maybe. Maybe not.
While we've analyzed, scrutinized and hypothesized about a few of the game's top prospects, there's a chance you missed the debut of another young man whose Major League dreams have also been realized in recent weeks.
"It's been surreal," La Stella said. "You wait your entire life for this opportunity to be here and play on this stage. You think about achieving it. You think it will never live up to everything you've built it up to be in your head, but it really is. It's an amazing experience for me and my family."
Despite the lack of national media attention surrounding La Stella's arrival, the 25-year-old New Jersey native may have a major impact on Atlanta's playoff chances. While he does not possess the same power potential as Uggla, La Stella does have a great understanding of the strike zone, a unique ability to put the bat on the ball and a knack for getting on base. He says his offensive game is about "small ball," controlling the strike zone, hitting to all fields and doing damage when he gets the right pitch. Through 12 games, the smallish and compact La Stella (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) has a .357 average and a .400 on base percentage.
So far, so good.
Equally impressive is that La Stella has struck out only three times in 46 plate appearances. By comparison, Uggla, a three-time All-Star, has fanned 37 times in 132 plate appearances and reaches base only at a .242 clip. If you thought, as I did, that replacing a veteran making $13 million would create tension, think again.
"Absolutely not," La Stella said. "You spend two minutes with Danny, and immediately you realize he's one of the nicest guys you're ever going to be around. He's the ultimate professional. Danny's been nothing but supportive and welcoming to me even from the very first day of Spring Training. He really went out of his way to make me feel a part of it. If I'm ever in that situation later in my career, I'll try to handle it with half as much class as he does."
Right now, La Stella is just getting used to Major League life that includes first-class travel and treatment and the chance to rub elbows with stars he watched on television for years. Like David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia.
"There's been a couple of guys I played against where I'm looking at him and going, 'Wow,'" La Stella said. "I've watched this guy a million times in my living room with all my buddies and my family, and I'm sharing the field with him. It's really been humbling, to be honest with you."
Growing up in the New York area (as an avid Yankees fan), La Stella has July 7-10 circled on his calendar. That's when he'll return to the Big Apple for the first time as a big leaguer. The Braves roll into Citi Field to face the Mets. Family and friends (and probably friends of friends, along with their friends) will pack the house.
"It's going to be out of control," La Stella said. "It's something that we would always talk about when I was in the Minor Leagues. Going back to New York and playing at Citi Field, it's something I'm looking forward to, but, at the same time, it's going to be a lot. There's going to be a lot of people, a lot of friends and family, which I'm looking forward to, but it's definitely going to be chaotic."
La Stella's plate is full. The learning curve is huge. The road is long and winding. So I held off on asking him about anything too far ahead. Like postseason dreams and career goals.
Taking it slow is the way to go. So the fans and the player can enjoy the ride one day at a time.
Matt Yallof is the co-host of The Rundown on MLB Network from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. ET. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less