Despite losing one of the best starting pitchers in Major League Baseball with the trade of C.C. Sabathia, the Cleveland Indians received one of the most talented up-and-coming sluggers in return from the Milwaukee Brewers. Matt LaPorta was selected seventh overall by the Brewers in the 2007 amateur draft after a four-year stay at the University of Florida.
With a young star named Prince Fielder already established at first base in Milwaukee, LaPorta was shifted off his traditional defensive position to left field. Most scouts felt the move was suicide and that the below-average-fielding first baseman would be lost in left. LaPorta’s play, though, has some now feeling that he could be a fringe-average outfielder at the Major League level. However, with the trade to Cleveland, the right-handed hitting slugger could settle into a big league gig at first base and/or designated hitter.
Currently, the club has the oft-injured Travis Hafner (left-handed hitter), and Ryan Garko (right-handed) filling the 1B/DH roles. LaPorta’s prodigious power (.577 career slugging) could match that of Hafner’s in his prime, and surpass anything that Garko (career .447 SLG, .404 in 2008) might have to offer. Hafner’s power output and slugging percentages have dropped off dramatically in the past two seasons (.451 SLG in 2007 and .323 in 2008).
LaPorta’s first full pro season was spent in Double-A in 2008, first in the Milwaukee organization (302 at-bats), and then in the Cleveland system (60 at-bats). He also spent time playing in the Olympics after the trade, where he suffered a concussion that plagued him for the remainder of the season. During his time at Double-A with Milwaukee, LaPorta hit .288/.402/.576 with an ISO of .288. He also showed his prowess as a run-producer by driving in 66 batters in just 84 games. LaPorta also posted solid rates: 13.0 BB% and 20.9 K%.
The Florida native has been seeing plenty of playing time this spring with Cleveland and is currently hitting .300/.391/.550 in eight games. There is not a lot of work he needs to do in the minors, although breaking balls still give him some trouble. LaPorta could very well open the season in Cleveland – or surface by May. If he does play the majority of the season in Cleveland, expect about 20 home runs, as well as a .260 average to go along with a healthy dose of walks and a pile of strikeouts. With experience, LaPorta will likely raise his average and cut down on the strikeouts.