LaPorta Has A Lot To Play For This Spring
Each week through Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and break down the players in camp for the Indians at Goodyear, Arizona and examine their potential roles for the season to come. This week, we continue our Goodyear coverage by breaking down the players who are battling for a chance to make the Opening Day roster.
By Mike Brandyberry
If the team announces in their end of the season press conference that their goal is to find your replacement, you probably don’t have much of a chance to make the team the following season. However, as luck may have it, Matt LaPorta still has a lot to play for this spring.
After a season in which LaPorta hit .247, with 11 home runs and 53 runs batted in, the team announced that one of their goals for the offseason would be to improve their first base play and to add a right handed bat, each roles the club had hoped he could fill in 2011. His rising strikeout rate and dropping walk rate, combined with mediocre defense and sometimes erratic play had finally become too much. LaPorta missed six weeks of the season a year ago when he broke his ankle, running in front of the baseball—a cardinal sin that most junior varsity players don’t commit.
Being the centerpiece of the C.C. Sabathia trade and being perceived as a core player to build around when he was acquired is no longer doing him any favors. At one time LaPorta probably received the benefit of the doubt with patience in his development, but once Casey Kotchman was signed late this winter the message was clear—LaPorta will have to play his way back into the lineup.
Assuming Kotchman remains healthy through Spring Training, he will certainly open the year at first base. Since LaPorta has an option remaining, he can be sent to AAA-Columbus for further development. Most likely, the one time core player for the future, will be a centerpiece of the Clipper lineup, trying to eliminate strikeouts and improve his offspeed hitting.
LaPorta does have a slight chance to play well this spring and win a spot in the Tribe outfield. Manager Manny Acta has been clear that anyone with outfield experience will be given the opportunity to compete for the left field position. Realistically, LaPorta probably trails Shelley Duncan, Aaron Cunningham and Ryan Spilborghs as left field possibilities.
While LaPorta tries to compete to save his spot on the Tribe roster this spring, even if his role has changed, Tribe brass may be evaluating what their approach will be with the slugger. Most likely he returns to Columbus for at least a half a year of seasoning, but a struggling or exceptional spring may make him expendable via trade. Despite his frustrations, he still commands some trade value. Indians brass may decide a change of scenery will be his only chance to thrive as a major leaguer, like Brandon Phillips, or the club may continue the patient route like they did with Andy Marte.
Regardless of position or team LaPorta leaves Goodyear with, one thing is certain, he has much left to prove to be the centerpiece he once was thought to be.
Photo: Jordan Bastian/MLB.com