La Stella aims to build off All-Star '19

July 12th, 2020

ANAHEIM -- Tommy La Stella was among the Angels players who were in the Anaheim area and fortunate enough to be able to work out at Angel Stadium during the shutdown, and he believes the intrasquad games are enough to get him ready for the 2020 season.

La Stella, speaking via Zoom on Sunday, was paired with fellow second baseman David Fletcher during workouts prior to Summer Camp, as the club limited workout activities to groups of two to abide by proper social distancing. La Stella even faced two-way star Shohei Ohtani several times during live bullpen sessions before camp began, and he believes he benefited from being able to train at the ballpark over the past few months.

“It was pretty similar to the offseason,” La Stella said. “We were obviously in smaller groups. It was similar to the offseason, getting work in with [Angels strength and conditioning coach] Lee Fiocchi. I was lucky to have a place to go, a facility to use. I know a lot of guys didn't.”

La Stella has also enjoyed the intrasquad games at Angel Stadium because they’re more adaptable and controllable than a regular Cactus League game, allowing players to get more at-bats without a traditional lineup. The Angels have also been using their intrasquad games to practice situational hitting and defense to get ready for the regular season, which begins on July 24 against the A's in Oakland.

“I think you get more reps,” La Stella said. “Splitting the team up, you come off the field, go right to bat rack, get ready for your at-bats. You can play 4-5 innings and get 6-7 at-bats in half the time. It has a nice pace to it -- a little more specified, tailored to what you need. There's more going on in Spring Training: other team’s BP, fans, media. This is a little more reduced, concentrated, specific.”

La Stella has also been getting some work in at first base in case he’s needed in an emergency there, especially with Matt Thaiss still not in camp and Jared Walsh not arriving until this past Thursday. But La Stella is slated to be the club’s regular second baseman, sharing time with Fletcher, who is now the club’s super utility man.

It marks a return to regular action for La Stella, who is coming off a breakout season that saw him earn his first All-Star selection, only to suffer a fractured right tibia in early July that kept him off the field until the final two games of the season. La Stella, though, isn’t worried about the long layoff.

“I don’t see too much of a challenge,” La Stella said. “We’ve played this game for a while, so a lot of times, getting back into it is kind of like riding a bike. But I was fortunate to get back those few games at the end of the season, to get the visual of being back out on the field, get some game reps and take that into the offseason, so it doesn’t feel like that much of a layoff.”

La Stella is also reunited with Joe Maddon, who was his manager with the Cubs from 2015-18. Maddon gave La Stella the nickname “3 a.m.” while in Chicago because he believed La Stella could wake up in the middle of the night and still be able to deliver a line drive.

La Stella, though, has a different role as a regular now, as he was mostly a backup and a pinch-hitter during his time with the Cubs. Maddon also stood by La Stella in 2016, when La Stella initially refused an assignment to Double-A but ultimately reported and rejoined the club two weeks later.

The respect is mutual between the two, and Maddon is excited about getting the chance to serve as La Stella’s manager again.

“There’s a tension-free method to his hitting,” Maddon said. “I’d imagine he’d feel he’d need more reps on defense than offense. It’s kind of unusual the way he is. You have to get him on the field as often as you can to get the best version of him defensively. Offensively, I’m telling you, he knows where the barrel is. I think the training he’s had to this point gives him the confidence that even though he hasn’t been playing, he knows if does certain things he can go out there and get comfortable.”