Professional Hitter





GOODYEAR, ARIZ.—Matt LaPorta's best shot to make the Indians Opening Day roster didn't even make it one day into spring training.

Instead of giving the 25-year-old a chance to win the first-base job during spring training, the Indians instead signed Russell Branyan for a one-year, $2 million contract, with manager Manny Acta announcing that Branyan would be the Indians everyday first baseman.

LaPorta, acquired in the 2008 trade that sent C.C. Sabathia to the Brewers, was brought up from the minor leagues for the first time last year. He hit .254/.308/.442 in 181 at-bats with the Tribe after batting .299/.388/.530 in 338 at-bats for Triple-A Columbus.

During LaPorta's two major league stints, he primarily played left field while subbing in occasionally at right field, DH and first base.

But having shown a promising power stroke and then undergoing surgeries on his hip and toe in October, the new plan suddenly became transitioning LaPorta into an everyday first baseman.

That is, until the 34-year-old Branyan was brought back into the Tribe fold—for the fourth time.

"(LaPorta's) going to get 500 at-bats, if he's healthy," Acta said. "That's what's important here."

But what Acta said is just as important as what he didn't say, which is where LaPorta would get those at-bats.

Now, unless LaPorta beats out another up-and-comer in outfielder Michael Brantley for the Indians left-field job, those 500 at-bats could come at Triple-A Columbus. But if it were up to LaPorta, what does he consider his best fit in the field?

"It's funny, I haven't known my whole life," said LaPorta, when asked if he was an outfielder or an infielder. "In college, guys would ask me where I played, I'd just say, 'I'm a hitter.'"

SMOKE SIGNALS

• The Brewers worked out a deal with the Indians to keep Rule 5 pick Chuck Lofgren, allowing the Brewers to send the lefthander to Triple-A. The Indians received righthanded reliever Omar Aguilar in return.

• The Indians re-signed righthander Tom Mastny to a minor league contract. Mastny, 29, pitched for the Yokohama Bay Stars in the Japanese Central League last season, going 1-5, 5.69 in 15 games. The Indians sold his contract to Yokohama in the winter following the 2008 season.