Here’s a name that we haven’t spoken about in some time, but that’s certainly not because we think any less of him. After being traded to the Indians as the centerpiece to the CC Sabathia trade and playing in the Olympics, Matt LaPorta had quite a tale to tell in 2008.
Overall, his numbers weren’t all that impressive, hitting .279 with 22 HR, 74 RBI and 62 R in 362 AB in his first full minor league season. After the trade, he had just 60 AB for the Indians Double A affiliate, hitting just .233 with 2 HR in those AB’s. He’s also struggled in the Venezuela Winter League, hitting just .164 with 2 HR in 67 AB.
Maybe it was the injuries he sustained while playing in the Olympics that has slowed him down. He did suffer a mild concussion while in Beijing, so it certainly is possible, but at the same time, by now you’d have to think he’d be over it.
You have to look past the decline in his numbers, because LaPorta is one of the best bats in the minor leagues and will likely make his presence felt in the Indians line-up early on in 2009. Prior to his trade, he was hitting .288 with 20 HR and 66 RBI in just 302 AB, numbers that are significantly more telling of his abilities. That’s a HR every 15.1 AB, obviously a number he probably would not be able to repeat in the major leagues, not in his rookie campaign anyways. Still, it shows just how much power he has.
Prior to the 2008 season, Baseball America had him ranked as the best prospect in the Brewers system, one of the best in baseball. They also considered him the team’s best power-hitting prospect, which he certainly showed early on last season. They also had him pegged as the #27 prospect in all of baseball.
The former first round pick (#7 overall) in the 2007 draft will be 24-years old by the start of the 2009 season, so it is very believable that he takes the next step in his development. I’m not going to suggest that he will suddenly become a 30 HR hitter in the major leagues, despite the promise he’s shown in the minor leagues. It’s just not easy for a rookie to step in and make quite that big of an impact. Still, he should be a very good hitter in the major leagues as soon as he gets the call.
It’s not like the Indians have a load of outfield options available to them at this point. Outside of Grady Sizemore, the Indians are set to use Shin-Soo Choo and Ben Francisco as their starting outfielders. I know people are high on Choo given the way he closed the season, but to me there’s a lot of room there for the team to utilize LaPorta, right from the start.
I know, teams haven’t been starting their top prospects in the major leagues the past few seasons. We’ve seen it with Ryan Braun, Evan Longoria, Jay Bruce and many others. I do think the same thing is going to occur this season when it comes to LaPorta.
He is among the top minor league hitters in the game at this point, right there with Matt Wieters. How quickly he makes an impact is strictly up to the Indians, but he’s a name that should be on your radar heading into ’09. The question isn’t if he will make an impact in 2009, the real question is when.
Yearly league owners do not want to draft him, especially if your league only requires 3 starting OF’ers. In that type of format he’d be more of a waiver wire steal. There are too many options who are much less risky, even potential sleeper picks.
In AL-only, leagues that require 5 OF’ers and keeper leagues, he certainly is worth considering in the late rounds. After seeing the success of other youngsters in recent years, LaPorta is a player that you don’t want to miss out on. He has that type of power potential that you do not want to overlook.