Tommy La Stella's drag bunt single in the first inning against Pensacola on June 9 gave him a .330 average in his first 26 games with Mississippi. The hit, though, came with a price, which has too frequently been the case for Atlanta's No. 16 prospect.
La Stella strained his hamstring just before reaching first base, landing him on the disabled list. Unfortunately, that's a spot the second baseman is all too familiar with.
La Stella, 24, was beaned at Class A Advanced Lynchburg last season, then sat out six weeks after breaking his leg in a collision while covering first on a bunt. This year, he missed Spring Training and the first three weeks of the season because of a sore right elbow.
"It's been frustrating," said the left-handed hitting La Stella, who made it back from his hamstring injury June 29. "You want to play, not sit."
When healthy, La Stella has always hit, and the Braves feel that the former Coastal Carolina standout was a steal as an eighth-round pick in the 2011 Draft.
After batting .398 his last season in college, La Stella hit .328 for Class A Rome and then .302 with Lynchburg last year despite being limited to 85 games.
La Stella went 11-for-20 in seven games with the Hillcats this season after recovering from elbow inflammation, and then was 3-for-6 with two doubles, a triple and five RBIs in his Mississippi debut May 7.
Who needs Spring Training?
"Lynchburg was my Spring Training," La Stella said.
But now the New Jersey native is having to get back up to speed again after sitting out nearly three weeks. Eased back, La Stella had just four hits in his first 21 at-bats, dropping his average to .304.
"I'm trying to get my timing back," he said.
When La Stella does, he will be an offensive force again. He has struck out just 11 times while drawing 18 walks for Lynchburg and Mississippi this season, following his normal pattern.
La Stella has walked 84 times in 194 Minor League games and struck out just 64 times.
La Stella, who started his college career at St. John's, also has some pop. He had 14 homers his final season at Coastal Carolina and has a .467 slugging average this year to go with his .422 on-base percentage.
"I want to be aggressive but make sure it is a pitch I can handle," said La Stella, who drove in seven runs in the playoffs as Lynchburg won the Carolina League's Mills Cup last season.
But for La Stella, the real key is staying healthy. He's spent enough time on the disabled list.
"I just want to be on the field and get as many at-bats as I can," he said.
Although a little bigger, the scrappy La Stella has reminded some of former Atlanta second baseman Mark Lemke. The Braves had a lot of success with Lemke as their second baseman during the early part of their run of National League East Division titles in the 1990s.
Short work: Chattanooga righty Zach Lee, the Dodgers' No. 2 prospect, got credit for the first complete game of his career, but he had to work just 5 1/3 innings in the rain-shortened 2-0 victory over Jacksonville on Thursday. Lee (7-5) allowed three hits, walked none and struck out five while lowering his ERA to 2.79. In his previous start, he had allowed just two hits over seven scoreless innings in a victory at Huntsville. Lee, 21, is No. 66 among MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects.
On a roll: Huntsville righty Taylor Jungmann (9-6) took over the Southern League lead in victories, defeating Tennessee, 8-2, on Saturday. Milwaukee's No. 2 prospect worked 6 2/3 innings and struck out seven while walking one. Jungmann, 23, is 7-2 with a 2.25 ERA in his past 10 appearances since a 1-4 start to the season and a brief trip to the disabled list. He was the No. 12 overall pick in the 2011 Draft out of the University of Texas.
Power surge: Tennessee third baseman Christian Villanueva homered for the fifth time in 10 games, giving him 11 for the season. He went deep in back-to-back games June 25-26 and July 2-3 before connecting again Saturday. Villanueva, 22, started July by going 9-for-24, raising his average to .259. The Cubs' No. 8 prospect had 42 RBIs. He came to the Cubs from Texas in the trade of Ryan Dempster last July.