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La Stella, Braves prospects making most of AFL

ATLANTA -- When Dan Uggla underwent LASIK surgery and Tyler Pastornicky suffered a season-ending knee injury during the same week in August, the Braves talked about the possibility of promoting Tommy La Stella from Double-A Mississippi to the Major League level.

The Braves instead opted to allow La Stella to further his development in the Minors, and he has spent the past six weeks displaying his offensive talents in the Arizona Fall League.

La Stella has been the most-hyped of the eight Braves prospects who have played for the Scottsdale Scorpions in this year's AFL. But the 24-year second baseman is certainly not the only member of this group who has made the most of this opportunity to play with and against some of the game's other highly regarded prospects.

Like La Stella, third baseman Kyle Kubitza and right-handed relievers Shae Simmons and Juan Jaime will come to Spring Training enriched by their AFL experience and with the realistic hope of playing in Atlanta at some point next year.

La Stella has cooled down since blazing through the first few weeks he played in Arizona. But he still entered Thursday afternoon's season finale hitting .290 (18-for-62) with one home run and a .904 OPS. In addition, La Stella has continued to display a good approach while drawing 16 walks and striking out just four times.

This impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio is not simply created by a small sample size. Through the first 999 plate appearances of his professional career, La Stella has drawn 111 walks and struck out just 88 times. That equates to one strikeout every 11.4 at-bats.

La Stella, who hit .343 with a .896 OPS for Mississippi this summer, could be the first member of this AFL class to reach Atlanta. If the Braves are able to trade Uggla this winter, La Stella will likely come to Spring Training to battle for the starting second-base job with Pastornicky, Ramiro Pena and Elliot Johnson.

Simmons has certainly opened some eyes this year with a fastball that sits between 92-97 mph. In 10 innings against AFL competition, the 23-year-old right-hander has allowed just one run and six hits. The seven walks Simmons issued provide indication he is still developing his control. But he has helped offset the potential damage courtesy of his power arm, which has produced 13 strikeouts.

Braves scouting director Tony DeMacio has reason to be proud of Simmons, who was taken in the 22nd round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft out of Southeast Missouri State. Simmons compiled a 1.69 ERA and recorded 82 strikeouts while issuing just 22 walks in 53 1/3 combined innings with Class A Rome and Mississippi this year.

Like Simmons, Jaime possesses a power arm that has led some to believe he could one day serve as a closer or setup man at the big league level. Jaime has not garnered good results in Arizona, allowing seven earned runs and 11 hits in 9 1/3 innings. But the 26-year-old reliever has continued to intrigue scouts with a fastball that often registers triple-digit radar readings.

Kubitza has made the most of his time in Arizona, hitting .298 (17-for-57) with a home run and an .876 OPS. The 23-year-old prospect batted .260 with 12 home runs and a .814 OPS with Class A Advanced Lynchburg this year. His ability to play the corner positions in both the infield and the outfield could allow him to at least serve as a utility player at the Major League level within the next couple of years.

The other Braves prospects who competed in the AFL this year were slick-fielding shortstop Elmer Reyes, power-hitting outfielder Robby Hefflinger and right-handed pitchers Aaron Northcraft and John Cornely.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for

Atlanta Braves