By JAY LeBLANC
Matt LaPorta became a household name last summer when the Milwaukee Brewers shipped him to the Cleveland Indians along with two lesser prospects in exchange for reigning American League Cy Young award winner CC Sabathia. Sabathia bolted for the New York Yankees this past offseason, but not before leading the Brewers to their first playoff appearance since 1982 with some clutch pitching down the stretch. Now that LaPorta has been summoned from Triple-A, it appears it’s the Tribe’s turn to reap the benefits of the blockbuster deal.
The Brewers were so impressed with LaPorta’s bat that they took him with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2007 draft despite the fact that he played first base at the University of Florida and they already had Prince Fielder at that position. After making the switch to left field, LaPorta - who bats and throws right-handed - hit .304 with 12 home runs in 115 at bats while splitting time between Rookie ball and Class A that summer. He moved up to Double-A last year and blasted 20 homers in 84 games for the Huntsville Stars before the trade, then made a brief cameo with his new organization’s Double-A squad, the Akron Aeros, before joining the U.S. Olympic team. LaPorta left Beijing with not only a bronze medal but also a concussion resulting from a beaning during a heated game against host China. Once he returned to the States and recovered, he rejoined the Aeros and helped them advance to the Eastern League Championship Series.
LaPorta made a strong case for a spot on the big league roster in spring training by hitting .361 with six doubles, a home run and four RBI in 36 at bats, but the Indians nonetheless elected to have him open the year with their Triple-A affiliate, the Columbus Clippers. LaPorta took the demotion in stride and proceeded to hit .333 with five homers and 14 RBI in 75 at bats, and after a disappointing 9-14 start, the Tribe decided they needed his bat in the lineup. LaPorta will be in uniform for Saturday’s road game against the Detroit Tigers. Indians manager Eric Wedge said the 24-year-old will platoon with left-handed hitter David Dellucci in left field, and he’ll also likely get some starts at designated hitter with Travis Hafner again on the disabled list.
I had a chance to speak with LaPorta in early September while his Aeros were battling the Baltimore Orioles-affiliated Bowie Baysox in the opening round of the Eastern League playoffs, and he shared his thoughts about the Sabathia trade, the Olympic beaning and much more:
Q: You were drafted twice before you finally signed with the Brewers last year. Did you come close to signing with either the Cubs (14th round, 2003) or the Red Sox (14th round, 2006)?
A: You know, it was one of those things where I just really prayed about it and tried to follow what the Lord wanted me to do, so yes and no. I just really had to look at the situation and decide what was best for me.
Q: What was your reaction when you learned you’d been traded to the Indians in the CC Sabathia deal?
A: Well, I was excited for the Brewers. They got a quality player in CC and I’ve been saying since the beginning that I wish the Brewers the best of luck. I hope they make the playoffs and do well in the playoffs, but I’m excited to be an Indian. The Indians are a great organization.
Q: You’ve played both first base and the outfield this season. What position do you think you’ll end up at?
A: Ain’t no telling. All I can do is go out there and practice at both and play hard at both, and we’ll see.
Q: Could you describe your approach at the plate? Do you try to get into the pitcher’s head, or do you just react to what’s thrown?
A: I just kind of react to what’s thrown. It’s a game of reactions and if you think too much, I think you’re getting yourself in trouble.
Q: You were a member of the U.S. Olympic team that took the bronze in Beijing. What will you remember most from that experience?
A: Just the entire experience. I mean, I was very blessed to be able to go out there and represent my country. It was an amazing feeling to get that bronze medal up on the podium with all those other great athletes in the world, and again, I’m just very thankful.
Q: Do you feel like the beaning in the game against China was intentional?
A: You know, some say it was, but it doesn’t matter to me. It’s water under the bridge. It’s not a big deal anymore.
Q: What were some of your goals for this season? Do you feel like you’ve accomplished them?
A: I think I did well in accomplishing a lot of my goals. There’s a lot of things I’ve still got to get better at and work harder at, but I’m pleased with my season. But I know there’s always room for improvement, so that’s what I’ll do in the offseason.
Q: Any plans for fall or winter ball?
A: Yeah, I’m going to go down and play baseball in Venezuela.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Indians?
A: I mean, whenever … it’s one of those things where you just keep working hard, and when they feel it’s time for you to come up, they’ll bring you up.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to view the original Matt LaPorta Prospect Q&A