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Matt LaPorta

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Matthew Vincent LaPorta

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Matt LaPorta was the 7th pick of the 2007 amateur draft. Some considered him a surprise top-10 choice due to a lack of athleticism and injury history, but he was clearly one of the most accomplished hitters in amateur baseball.

The Chicago Cubs had first selected LaPorta, then a catcher, in the 14th round of the 2003 amateur draft. He did not sign. In college, he started as a freshman catcher for the University of Florida, the #16 team in the nation, and hit .285/.371/.646. As a sophomore, he batted .328/.428/.698 with 26 homers, 75 runs and 79 RBI in 70 games. He was a consensus All-American as the best first baseman in the country. He led NCAA Division I in home runs and his 185 total bases were 3 behind leader Trevor Crowe and 4 ahead of Alex Gordon, considered the top college player that year by many sources. He tied for 7th in NCAA Division in RBI and came within one of Ryan Shealy's school record. He led the Southeastern Conference in both homers and RBI and was named the All-SEC first baseman and SEC Player of the Year, the first University of Florida player so honored. He hit .250 with 2 homers and 6 RBI in the 2005 College World Series, which Florida dropped in the finals.

He joined the USA college national team and hit .259/?/.552 with a team-leading 4 HR. His teammates would watch his batting practice to see how far he would clobber the ball. In a series against Japan, he broke a bone in his left foot, but continued to play. Later in the summer, he suffered a chipped tooth and needed stitches after being plunked one time, yet held on to his role.

LaPorta struggled in 2006 with a .259/.410/.538 batting line. The Boston Red Sox took him in the 14th round of the 2006 amateur draft but he again did not sign.

Matt bounced back in 2007 with a .410/.582/.817 line at the plate, 55 walks, 60 runs, 20 homers and 52 RBI in 52 games. He again won the SEC Player of the Year award and was first-team All-Conference. Collegiate Baseball named him a second-team All-American.

LaPorta was taken 7th overall in the 2007 amateur draft by the Milwaukee Brewers, after being scouted by Charlie Aliano. The choice was considered particularly surprising as the Brewers already had a young Prince Fielder occupying first base, and had no use for a designated hitter as a National League team, forcing LaPorta to play in the outfield. He debuted with the Helena Brewers, hitting .259/.286/.519 in 7 games and was promoted to the West Virginia Power. LaPorta hit .318/.392/.750 in 23 games for the Power, with 10 home runs and 27 RBI. In winter ball, he hit .241 for the Mesa Solar Sox but tied for the Arizona Fall League with 6 homers, even with Nolan Reimold and Caleb Stewart. He drove home 22, second in the league to Reimold, and coaxed 17 walks. Baseball America rated him the #4 prospect in the AFL behind Cameron Maybin, Evan Longoria and Travis Snider.

LaPorta began 2008 with the Huntsville Stars and hit .288/.402/.576 with 20 home runs and 66 RBI in 84 games. He was third in the Southern League in slugging, was second to Mat Gamel in RBI and led in homers as of July 7. He was then traded with Rob Bryson, Zach Jackson and a player to be named later to the Cleveland Indians for C.C. Sabathia. LaPorta was assigned to the Akron Aeros after the deal. LaPorta hit .233/.299/.350 in 17 games for Akron. Baseball America rated him as the top power prospect in the Southern League and as the #4 overall prospect, behind Clayton Kershaw, David Price and Cameron Maybin and right ahead of Alcides Escobar, Chris Volstad and Gamel.

LaPorta was chosen for Team USA for the 2008 Olympics. Regularly used as a corner outfielder, he only had a .158 average but posted a .313 OBP and .474 slugging percentage. He struck out in 8 of 19 at-bats. He hit a 3-run homer off Shairon Martis and a solo shot against Tsuyoshi Wada in Beijing, but was more noted for his role in a game against the Chinese national team. In that contest, LaPorta was involved in a home plate collision which injured Chinese backstop Wei Wang. China manager Jim Lefebvre complained about the incident and was ejected. When LaPorta came up next, Kun Chen hit him in the helmet with a fastball; Chen was ejected and LaPorta left the game but was not injured.

LaPorta began 2009 with the Columbus Clippers and hit .333/.414/.640 with 5 homers, 22 runs and 14 RBI in his first 21 games. He was among the top 5 in the International League in runs scored when he got called up to Cleveland when Travis Hafner was placed on the disabled list. In his big league debut on May 3, he hit 8th and played right field, but struck out in his first at-bat, against Justin Verlander, and finished 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. He hit his first home run in Toronto the next day.

Sources include 2004-2009 Baseball Almanacs, SEC Press Guide, Baseballnews.com, Gatorzone.com, The Baseball Cube, 2008 Olympics

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