GOODYEAR, Ariz. — It’s make or break time for Matt LaPorta.
The highly touted slugger hasn’t done much slugging since arriving in Cleveland via the CC Sabathia trade with Milwaukee in 2008. If he doesn’t hit this year, it might very well be his last with the Indians.
“I feel like it’s a big year for a lot of our young players,” said general manager Chris Antonetti. “For us to be the team that we want to be, we’re going to need contributions from a lot of young players.”
Maybe so, but LaPorta, 26, is a bit more pivotal then the rest of Cleveland’s youth movement. He plays a corner position that is associated with offense and power, and LaPorta has shown little of both on the big league level the past two seasons.
He got extensive playing time (110 games) as the Indians’ starter at first base in 2010 and hit just .221 with 12 home runs and 41 RBIs. The Indians need more from him this year.
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“I would say so,” said manager Manny Acta, when asked if this was a big season for LaPorta. “He’s already had a (full) year of experience. But we’re trying to keep that away from Matty. We’re a team. We’re hoping he’s the guy that he’s supposed to be, but we’re the Cleveland Indians. It’s not all about Matty.”
LaPorta is aware of the expectations that have been placed upon him and thinks he’s ready to be the guy Acta is talking about.
“I expect to play healthy and play strong and be strong the whole season and go out there and hopefully help this team win,” he said. “I just want to be consistent with everything, with my approach, my diet, my sleep, my hitting, all that goes into being a successful baseball player. That’s my goal this year.
“I think my power has always been there. I think it’s a matter of developing into a better hitter. Now I’m more consistent making contact with balls and when I’m making contact with balls good things are going to happen.”
Some of LaPorta’s lack of production last year can be attributed to health issues. He came to training camp fresh off surgeries on his hip and toe, and the hip bothered him into the regular season.
“Probably the first couple months, it was still really tight and locked up,” said LaPorta, who opened the year as Cleveland’s starter at first before being demoted to Triple-A Columbus in favor of Russell Branyan. “When I wanted to push it, it was still kind of locked up in there. You feel the tightness and everything.
“As the season kept going on, probably June, July, August, I was feeling better. I was feeling strong.”
Once Branyan was traded, LaPorta was brought back to Cleveland and finished the season as the regular first baseman. He produced upon his recall, batting .286 with four homers and 16 RBIs in his first 30 games, but ran out of steam at the end and hit just .153 over the final month.
“By the end of the season, the legs were just fatigued,” LaPorta said. “As you know, it’s a long season anyway. If you’re not prepared for it, it can be tough.”
Though LaPorta has struggled to adjust to big league pitching, he has handled the other part of the game, making a smooth transition from the outfield to first. After some growing pains in 2009, LaPorta impressed Acta with his glove last year.
“I’m high on his defense,” Acta said. “I’ve never complained about his defense. He played very well for us defensively last year. (Offense is) his ticket in baseball. Offensively, that’s where most of his improvement will come.”
LaPorta’s bat has yet to get going this spring — .147 (5-for-34), a homer, six RBIs in 12 games — but he’s healthy and looking forward to what could be a significant year for his future.
“It’s a lot nicer to be able to just play baseball and prepare your body to go out and perform, not just trying to get healthy,” LaPorta said. “I feel great right now. I’m excited to get going.”
- Who: Indians vs. Brewers
- Time: 4:05 p.m.
- Where: Goodyear Ballpark, Goodyear, Ariz.
- TV/radio: STO (live); WTAM 1100-AM (tape delayed at 7 p.m.)
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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