Then & Now: Matt LaPorta
February 14, 2013
Then & Now is a weekly feature at Indians Prospect Insider during the offseason that takes a look at a prospect’s past and present while also offering a possible glimpse into the prospect’s future.
During the past few seasons, there has arguably been no Cleveland Indians player more polarizing than Matt LaPorta.
LaPorta has spent the past four seasons bouncing between the minor leagues and Cleveland. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
Most fans believed that LaPorta was the long-term answer to the Tribe’s first base woes. When he was acquired as the centerpiece in the C.C. Sabathia deal in July 2008, LaPorta was viewed as a cornerstone; a franchise-altering player who would serve as the foundation of the team’s rebuilding process.
Unfortunately for both LaPorta and the Indians, things have not gone exactly according to plan. LaPorta has failed in repeated attempts to secure a permanent spot on the Major League roster, and first base remains an ominous question mark past the 2013 season.
It’s been quite a ride for LaPorta throughout his career, and unfortunately it has not been the smoothest ride either.
Following a stellar collegiate career at the University of Florida, LaPorta was drafted seventh overall in the 2007 Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. When he was drafted, the thinking was that LaPorta was nearly a finished product and would rise through the minor leagues in just a couple of years.
He seemed to prove that thinking right upon making his professional debut in 2007. In 30 games and 130 plate appearances between Milwaukee’s rookie-level team Helena and Single-A West Virginia, LaPorta compiled a .304/.369/.696 line with 12 home runs, nine doubles and 31 RBI.
The power numbers were astonishing. LaPorta hit either a double or a home run nearly 15 percent of the time that he stepped into the batter’s box. He clearly was facing competition that was noticeably below his level, but the numbers could not be denied. And they weren’t.
Following that season, the national pundits started to take notice of LaPorta. Baseball America ranked him as the No. 23 prospect in all of baseball, and it seemed as if everyone was starting to take notice of the Brewers’ young, slugging prospect.
The Indians front office can be counted as one of the interested parties. The following summer, after LaPorta compiled a .288/.402/.576 line with 20 home runs in 84 games with Double-A Huntsville, the Indians traded C.C. Sabathia away to the Brewers for a package of prospects. The centerpiece of the prospect package was none other than LaPorta.
Finally, it appeared as if the Indians had acquired their first baseman of the future. Or so they thought.
The next three years is unfortunately a sad tale of unrealistic expectations, underwhelming performances and an unabashed fan base.
LaPorta spent part of the next three seasons in Cleveland and while there were signs, it never seemed to completely click. In 2009, after posting a .299/.388/.530 line with 17 home runs in 93 games at Triple-A Columbus, LaPorta came to Cleveland and hit .254/.308/.442 with seven home runs in 52 games. The numbers were not spectacular, but they did seem at least good enough to warrant a Major League roster spot for LaPorta in 2010. Yet, oddly enough, the Indians went another route.
Instead of giving LaPorta the opening day first base job in 2010, the Indians signed Russell Branyan to handle the duties. LaPorta started back in Columbus where he continued to rake: .362/.457/.638 line in 18 games.
This is also where a strong disconnect began to develop with fans. Many fans would often see the minor league numbers and clamor for a Major League promotion while others saw obvious flaws in LaPorta’s game (ex. plate discipline) that would prevent him from sticking as a starting first baseman.
LaPorta did eventually join the Major League club in 2010 and proceeded to post a .221/.306/.362 line with 12 home runs in 110 games. The next season, LaPorta finally opened up the year as the team’s opening day first baseman, but the numbers did not improve much.
In 107 games, LaPorta posted a .247/.299/.412 line with 11 home runs. Then, in late August, LaPorta was optioned back to Columbus.
LaPorta’s demotion in August 2012 seemed to be a permanent one as he started the 2012 season back with the Clippers. Casey Kotchman was signed to be his replacement at first base, and LaPorta really never seemed to even be in the discussion for a roster spot.
To his credit, LaPorta did not let the demotion bother him as he got off to a torrid start. In fact, in the month of April alone, LaPorta hit .380/.451/.759 with eight home runs.
LaPorta did earn two brief stints with the Indians in 2012, but they were just that — brief. His overall Major League line was .241/.267/.328 with one home run in 22 games and 60 plate appearances.
The right-handed hitter is now currently in spring training with the Indians as a non-roster invitee. At 28 years old, it’s unknown as to how much of a chance LaPorta will have to make the Major League roster.
It’s hard to say exactly what is in store for LaPorta. As stated earlier, he’s in camp with the Indians, but it still seems highly unlikely that he’ll have a legitimate shot at making the Major League roster.
So he likely will go back to Columbus and continue to rake, but will it do him any good? In the past, we’ve seen it ultimately mean very little.
One of LaPorta’s problems throughout his career has been plate discipline. In 345 minor league games, he’s drawn 155 walks while striking out 253 times. The numbers drastically increase in 291 Major League games: 82 walks and 223 strikeouts.
Perhaps the best course of action may be for LaPorta to choose to go overseas in Korea or Japan. It may help reestablish his value and ultimately lead to him catching on with another big league club.
LaPorta’s story is particularly troubling when you consider the kind of person that he is. By all accounts, he is as kind as they come and a truly good guy in a sport that’s filled with some sharks. Yet, unfortunately good morals and high character do not necessarily translate into All-Star Game appearances, and LaPorta is evidence of that.
Only time will tell what’s ahead for LaPorta, but if the Major Leagues are indeed in his future, that future likely won’t include the Indians.
Previous Then & Now profiles:
- Feb. 6, 2013: Matt Langwell
- Jan. 31, 2013: Mike McDade
- Jan. 24, 2013: Scott Barnes
- Jan. 15, 2013: Chen-Chang Lee
- Jan. 10, 2013: Austin Adams
- Jan. 5, 2013: Rob Bryson
- Dec. 26, 2012: Giovanni Soto
- Dec. 18, 2012: Thomas Neal
- Dec. 11, 2012: Chris McGuiness
- Dec. 8, 2012: Trey Haley
- Nov. 27, 2012: Adam Abraham
- Nov. 20, 2012: Jesus Aguilar
- Nov. 15, 2012: Cord Phelps
- Nov. 6, 2012: Tim Fedroff
- Nov. 2, 2012: T.J. McFarland
- Oct. 27, 2012: Chen-Hsiu Chen
- Oct. 16, 2012: Danny Salazar
- Oct. 10, 2012: Paolo Espino
- Oct. 5, 2012: Jared Goedert
- Sept. 24, 2012: Hector Rondon
- Sept. 17, 2012: Nick Weglarz
Steve can be reached via email at email@example.com.
I think his best option is a trade. Once that happens, he will be the player everyone expected him to be. Sadly, it won't be in Cleveland. He's a class guy. I wish him well.
Because of money of course. We could sign Reynolds next year but if he "tears it up" he will probably be looking for a 3 year deal.
Although its possible we resign him it would be much better for the team if we could platoon McGuiness, Laporta and Yan. I know Laporta is a big big if but if he tears it up this year why not give him a shot next spring? We also could have McGuiness, Yan, Mcdade and Aguliera as possible options at DH beyond this year.
So, I am just saying it would be great for the team if Laporta and McGuiness were able to take over at DH next season because they are here for awhile and cheap. Plus, even if Laporta has not transitioned to the majors he is still a former top prospect so you never know.
What makes you think Reynolds will be gone after one year? If he plays well and provides much needed right-handed power, why wouldn't we resign him? It's not like we have the next Manny Ramirez working his way up through the farm system.
If we were smart. We would support him and see if a healthy hip and perhaps other adjustments start to create progress. The problem is right now he does not have much room on the team even if he does really well. Chris McGuiness makes alot more sense in his role because he is a lefty bat to spell Reynolds and Stubbs.
On the other hand. We should have a hole at DH next season. With Reynolds gone and the rest of the team still here it would be interesting to platoon Matt Laporta and Chris McGuiness at DH. One bats left and the other right both guys can play DH, First and Left or Right Field.
So, lets just be honest these guys are humans. Playing MLB is hard enough, add in a hip problem, a personal problem and the striaght up adjustments that are needed and maybe you can cut him some slack. All I am saying is if it doesn't work it doesn't work but if he puts together a good strong whole year in AAA I would allow him to have a real chance to compete for a DH spot with others such as McGuiness and Aviles obviously gets alot of those bats as well because he does fit in right where are only obvious position player whole is. I don't think .265 with 20-24 homers is out of the question down the line.
On another note, you know what really screwed us up? Other then the fact we traded two Cy Young pitchers for Mike Brantley, Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson and Rob Bryson.
The other major problem was our "prime talent" Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore and Fausto Carmona. (I lke the name). All just faded away from injury or bad performance. It would have been so much better for us if they had continued to play well and we could have traded them before their contracts were up for young pitching.
One other thing. I have always loved Grady Sizemore and feel if he is physically capable of coming back he will. He might not be the same player but we need a strong left handed bat on the bench. If McGuiness, Giambi and Herridea don't work it might be interesting to have Grady come in and spell Stubbs and Reynolds vs tough righties. Assuming he is actually healthy he would also add some nice speed to the bench and another solid defensive outfeld guy even when Stubbs or Brantley are not playing. Just saying I would keep in eye on him as he could be our next DH. I am really rooting for McGuiness though. It would be huge if he is for real, great power numbers last season. He should be an AAA but maybe he can make the jump. That would give us a possible First Base/DH/Outfield sub for at least the next 3 years.
On the same note, it's interesting that both Kazmir and Ubaldo had a seemingly minor groin injury, with a similar result that followed that injury--a severe drop in velocity. Kazmir's explanation of how his mechanics got out of whack and he wasn't using his legs like he used to, but he didn't know how he to fix it, is also seemingly the case with Ubaldo.
However, if his hip was so bad last year that he had trouble getting out of bed, then it definitely affected his hitting. Or did it? He hit .380 in Columbus in April.
He says his hip is OK now so I'd like to see him go to Columbus, have a great first half, and then be brought up in mid-season after they finally realize Giambi should be managing somewhere rather than playing.
The problem is that the Indians have no place for LaPorta with the acquisition of Mark Reynolds. Even if LaPorta finally turns into the player the Tribe envisioned, he's another Mark Reynolds.
Crizno- Playing through injury leads you to question his morals? Something wrong with your judgment there. LaPorta is a genuinely good guy.
It would appear though that he could hit .650 with power this spring and still likely not come north with the us because we will see it as more fool's gold.