DURHAM, N.C.–It looks like Matt LaPorta has played his final minor league game.
The Indians promoted LaPorta and another prospect, second baseman Luis Valbuena, from Triple-A Columbus to Cleveland after the Clippers’ game in Durham last night.
LaPorta, 24, went 0-for-4 with a walk and two strikeouts last night, but he still looked impressive and leaves Columbus with a .333/.414/.640 batting line in 21 games. The ball makes a different sound coming off his bat thanks to his physical strength and strong rotational swing. LaPorta stays balanced at the plate, keeping his weight on his back leg before powerfully transferring his weight and unleashing a swing with good bat speed and torque to generate plus-plus power.
"Just really, really good baseball instincts and an incredible knack for hitting for power," Indians farm director Ross Atkins said earlier in the week. "He’s a powerful individual with a powerful swing. There’s a lot of big, strong guys who can’t leverage the ball, and he just happens to be one of them who can."
LaPorta played first base, the position he played at Florida before the Brewers tried using him in the outfield after making him a first-round pick in 2007. LaPorta’s below-average speed limits his range, though scouts who saw him last year in the Double-A Southern League were surprised by his jumps and reads off the bat. Yesterday LaPorta made a nice play on a hard-hit ground ball by Durham first baseman Chris Richard, diving to his right for the ball and making the underhand flip for the out at first base.
"I think the thing we’ve seen that’s been almost more encouraging is how good he’s been—not necessarily more valuable, but something that’s been almost unexpected—is how good he’s been defensively in the outfield," Atkins said. "Really good instincts, very good baserunner, has no problem coming in to the ball or going to his side, as any new outfielder playing at a high level. He’s learning to be more efficient going back on balls directly over his head, but we say the same thing about Grady Sizemore; that’s just part of playing baseball at a high level. That’s a hard thing to do.
"He lets his instincts play. He works on the fundamentals and he works on his routes and angles and jumps, but when it comes time to play, he just relies on his instincts, which is hard to get guys to do, especially when you’re making them play different positions."
LaPorta is the better prospect and has garnered more attention, but Valbuena shows the potential to be an average to above-average big leaguer. Valbuena, 23, keeps his head locked in through his swing and has a good eye at the plate (16 walks and 13 strikeouts this year) with the ability to work the count and spray line drives to all fields. He’s not particularly tall–he’s listed at 5-foot-10, 195 pounds–but he shows some surprising power with his ability to generate torque in his swing.
Yesterday Valbuena went 2-for-4 with a home run and a walk, raising his line this season to .321/.436/.538 in 22 games. Valbuena’s home run came off of Rays righthander Mitch Talbot in the top of the third inning, when Valbuena used a short swing to stay inside the ball on a fastball on the inner half of the plate for a deep home run to right field. His walk came in the sixth inning after getting behind 1-2, as Valbuena battled back to 2-2, then laid off of a pair of close pitches to draw the free pass.
Valbuena is a good defensive second baseman with excellent hands, solid arm strength and above-average accuracy. He’s an average runner, but he’s capable of filling in at shortstop or sliding across the diamond to third base if necessary.
"I think he’s someone who really benefited from winter ball," Atkins said. "He’s a really smart baseball player and he’s a leader on the baseball field–as far as decision-making is concerned and positioning and pre-pitch–and he’s working as a leader on the field. It’s been very, very good to see. And offensively he’s been as good or better than his numbers, and his numbers are great. He’s got over a 1.000 OPS. He’s got a lot of hard outs, and every at-bat he battles. He doesn’t give away at-bats, he’s extremely confident and he shows the ability to potentially be someone who can steal a base. I know he’s never done it, but he’s a really smart player and he’s an average runner, so if he maintains that speed, he might be someone down the road who can steal some bases for us."
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