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OC Register: How the Angels helped Tommy La Stella find his power

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ANAHEIM — Scroll back through videos of Tommy La Stella’s at-bats over the past few years, and you’d be hard pressed to find his true swing.

With the Chicago Cubs, La Stella played sporadically, giving him plenty of time to try different things, and not much time to see if they worked.

It took an entire spring and the first week of the regular season for La Stella and the Angels hitting coaches to discover – via tons of video – the Angels’ unlikely home run leader.

In just over a quarter of a season, La Stella has hit 11 homers, one more than his career total coming into this year.

“We knew he gave good at-bats and falls under the category of professional hitter,” Manager Brad Ausmus said. “But the power has been a pleasant surprise.”

For the first 396 games of La Stella’s career, over five seasons with the Atlanta Braves and Cubs, La Stella hit 10 homers. His season-high was five, in 2017.

La Stella, 30, blew past that in April. He’s already had three multi-homer games this season, two more than he had in his previous five years.

“I don’t want to say (I’m surprised) because it makes it seem like I didn’t believe I could drive the ball,” La Stella said. “I’ve always driven the ball. Over the last few seasons, it’s been more of taking whatever I can get at the plate, when you go up infrequently. It’s not really an opportunity to be driving the ball.”

In other words, when La Stella was spending most of his time on the bench, he didn’t have the chance to lock in his timing. Each at-bat was more about survival, as he tried to simply get a strike and spray the ball wherever he could.

Simply having plate discipline and good enough eye-hand coordination to put the ball in play manifested itself in the career .345 on-base percentage that attracted General Manager Billy Eppler.

Throughout spring training, La Stella and hitting coaches Jeremy Reed, Shawn Wooten and Paul Sorrento were sorting through different stances to unlock that hitter. Over the past couple seasons, La Stella had changed his setup often. Sometimes he’s been more crouched. Sometimes he’s had his bat straight up and sometimes it was parallel to the ground. Sometimes he opened up his feet.

Wooten sifted through it all.

“One of the things we actually did was go back through all his videos from years past,” Reed said. “Wooten does an unbelievable job of finding that video, and we’ve gone back to his optimal position.”

The optimal position, as it turns out, has La Stella standing taller, knees hardly bent at all, with his bat at about a 45-degree angle on his shoulder.

“On video, it may not be as athletic of a position, but it’s comfortable for me, which allows my swing to work the way I want it to,” La Stella said.

Big league hitting coaches will tell you that most of the job is just getting the hitters to start in a good position, allowing their natural athletic ability to take over once the ball is on its way.

For La Stella, this upright position allows him to be loose and relaxed, so his hands can be free to get the barrel of the bat to the ball as efficiently as possible. Instead of jabbing at the baseball to punch it somewhere, he unleashes a smoother swing that powers the ball.

“We really just got him in a repeatable position with his setup,” Reed said. “We did a couple drills with him to get his barrel in a position and he just goes in there and repeats it. The success he’s having now is something he knows he’s capable of.”

La Stella’s average exit velocity hasn’t changed much, but his launch angle has gone from 8.1 degrees last year to 15 degrees, which explains the balls going over the fence. La Stella insists a higher launch angle was not the goal. It is merely the side effect of locking in his setup in the optimal position. He actually had a similar launch angle from 2015 to 2017, between 13.3 and 15.7 degrees.

In 2017, La Stella hit .288 with a .389 on-base percentage, which is not far from what he’s doing now. The difference is he’s playing more often, so he has the timing to be more aggressive with his swing. Instead of just poking the ball someplace, he’s driving it.

“Just getting consistent at-bats has helped get my timing more consistent,” La Stella said.

After four more hits Wednesday, he’s up to .301 with a .388 on-base percentage, comfortably settling in as the Angels leadoff hitter, at least against right-handed pitchers.

He is thriving batting in front of Mike Trout, who is also chasing him in the home run column. Trout has nine.

“I might as well enjoy it while it lasts,” La Stella said of his homer edge on Trout. “I’m sure it won’t last very long.”

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23 minutes ago, AngelsWin.com said:

ANAHEIM — Scroll back through videos of Tommy La Stella’s at-bats over the past few years, and you’d be hard pressed to find his true swing.

With the Chicago Cubs, La Stella played sporadically, giving him plenty of time to try different things, and not much time to see if they worked.

It took an entire spring and the first week of the regular season for La Stella and the Angels hitting coaches to discover – via tons of video – the Angels’ unlikely home run leader.

In just over a quarter of a season, La Stella has hit 11 homers, one more than his career total coming into this year.

“We knew he gave good at-bats and falls under the category of professional hitter,” Manager Brad Ausmus said. “But the power has been a pleasant surprise.”

For the first 396 games of La Stella’s career, over five seasons with the Atlanta Braves and Cubs, La Stella hit 10 homers. His season-high was five, in 2017.

La Stella, 30, blew past that in April. He’s already had three multi-homer games this season, two more than he had in his previous five years.

“I don’t want to say (I’m surprised) because it makes it seem like I didn’t believe I could drive the ball,” La Stella said. “I’ve always driven the ball. Over the last few seasons, it’s been more of taking whatever I can get at the plate, when you go up infrequently. It’s not really an opportunity to be driving the ball.”

In other words, when La Stella was spending most of his time on the bench, he didn’t have the chance to lock in his timing. Each at-bat was more about survival, as he tried to simply get a strike and spray the ball wherever he could.

Simply having plate discipline and good enough eye-hand coordination to put the ball in play manifested itself in the career .345 on-base percentage that attracted General Manager Billy Eppler.

Throughout spring training, La Stella and hitting coaches Jeremy Reed, Shawn Wooten and Paul Sorrento were sorting through different stances to unlock that hitter. Over the past couple seasons, La Stella had changed his setup often. Sometimes he’s been more crouched. Sometimes he’s had his bat straight up and sometimes it was parallel to the ground. Sometimes he opened up his feet.

Wooten sifted through it all.

“One of the things we actually did was go back through all his videos from years past,” Reed said. “Wooten does an unbelievable job of finding that video, and we’ve gone back to his optimal position.”

The optimal position, as it turns out, has La Stella standing taller, knees hardly bent at all, with his bat at about a 45-degree angle on his shoulder.

“On video, it may not be as athletic of a position, but it’s comfortable for me, which allows my swing to work the way I want it to,” La Stella said.

Big league hitting coaches will tell you that most of the job is just getting the hitters to start in a good position, allowing their natural athletic ability to take over once the ball is on its way.

For La Stella, this upright position allows him to be loose and relaxed, so his hands can be free to get the barrel of the bat to the ball as efficiently as possible. Instead of jabbing at the baseball to punch it somewhere, he unleashes a smoother swing that powers the ball.

“We really just got him in a repeatable position with his setup,” Reed said. “We did a couple drills with him to get his barrel in a position and he just goes in there and repeats it. The success he’s having now is something he knows he’s capable of.”

La Stella’s average exit velocity hasn’t changed much, but his launch angle has gone from 8.1 degrees last year to 15 degrees, which explains the balls going over the fence. La Stella insists a higher launch angle was not the goal. It is merely the side effect of locking in his setup in the optimal position. He actually had a similar launch angle from 2015 to 2017, between 13.3 and 15.7 degrees.

In 2017, La Stella hit .288 with a .389 on-base percentage, which is not far from what he’s doing now. The difference is he’s playing more often, so he has the timing to be more aggressive with his swing. Instead of just poking the ball someplace, he’s driving it.

“Just getting consistent at-bats has helped get my timing more consistent,” La Stella said.

After four more hits Wednesday, he’s up to .301 with a .388 on-base percentage, comfortably settling in as the Angels leadoff hitter, at least against right-handed pitchers.

He is thriving batting in front of Mike Trout, who is also chasing him in the home run column. Trout has nine.

“I might as well enjoy it while it lasts,” La Stella said of his homer edge on Trout. “I’m sure it won’t last very long.”

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Great stuff, @Jeff Fletcher.

Now let's see if Reed, Sorento and Wooten can fix Trout. He's been having some bad at bats lately and he appears he's standing more upright. Just looks completely different. 

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Great piece.... but the bigger question fans have been asking about is that scar on his head!

Seriously, it's always great to hear when coaches actually make a difference.

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La Stella is kind of a head scratcher ... the powers to be here were calling for his head and claimed he was a punch n judy type hitter. 

He could end up hitting 15 HRs for the season or be a 30+ HR guy. I hope for the 30+ guy ... with a high obp. 

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