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07/08/08 11:20 PM ET
Whirlwind week for Tribe's LaPorta
Prospect accepts challenge of being traded for Sabathia
By Andrew Gribble / MLB.com
AKRON, Ohio -- Think Indians general manager Mark Shapiro has had a busy week? Step into Matt LaPorta's shoes. LaPorta -- the highlight and centerpiece of the trade that sent CC Sabathia to the Brewers -- first heard his name swirling in the trade winds last week on a road trip in Tennessee with his former Double-A club, the Huntsville Stars. As his name kept popping up in newspapers, and even on SportsCenter, LaPorta sat down on Saturday with Stars manager Don Money, who told LaPorta to tune it all out and just keep hitting the cover off the ball. The next day, LaPorta, the Southern League's leading home run hitter and second-leading RBI man, was scratched from the lineup -- a telling sign that he was soon to be on the move. The horde of reporters and photographers surrounding LaPorta's locker after the game verified it. He was headed north. That's when LaPorta's manic week kicked into overdrive. LaPorta stayed up until 4 a.m. ET on Tuesday to pack all his stuff away in boxes only to wait at the airport for hours as the weather delayed his flight to Akron. To top it off, when LaPorta finally landed, one of his bags didn't make it -- the one with all his clothes. Oh yeah, his cell phone has been broken for the past five days, too. "It's been kind of crazy," said LaPorta, shrugging off the calamity with an ear-to-ear grin. So perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that LaPorta's scheduled debut with the Akron Aeros was delayed a day after a late-afternoon thunderstorm forced the game to be moved to Wednesday as part of a twi-night doubleheader. For the former Florida Gator who grew up shagging balls at Texas Rangers Spring Training, life as of late has certainly been hectic, but nothing to get too frazzled about. "It's pretty cool," said LaPorta, sporting a brand new Aeros cap with a completely flat brim. "It's always neat to be a part of such a big thing going on in baseball." It may not get any bigger than this. While it is uncertain what will come of Rob Bryson, Zach Jackson and the mysterious player to be named later in the five-player deal, LaPorta is viewed as the guaranteed stud. He's the reason, in theory, why Shapiro was justified in parting with Sabathia, the reigning American League Cy Young Winner, three months before his contract ended. And just to add more reason for LaPorta to feel like he will have the 6-foot-7, 300-pound left-hander riding his shoulders until he makes an impact at the big league level, Shapiro said he was "the single best player" offered to the Tribe in trade talks. LaPorta, though, looks at it in a different way. "It's a great honor to be traded for CC," LaPorta said. "He's an outstanding player and he's going to be great for the Milwaukee Brewers. I just don't really look at it that way. We're both ballplayers and we're both out here to do a job and I'm just thankful for this opportunity." Added pressure is nothing new to LaPorta. After being selected in the 14th round of both the 2003 and 2006 First-Year Player Drafts, LaPorta came into professional baseball last year as the seventh overall pick. "That's a challenge," Shapiro said. "It's one he's risen to both in college and now. It's one I don't expect will derail him, but that will be an additional challenge for him. He just needs to relax and focus on settling in and playing his game. If he does that, his talent alone will overcome that." LaPorta has overcome the first round of pressure quite easily since his first action with the Rookie League Helena Brewers last June. Since then, the 23-year-old right-handed slugger has clubbed 32 home runs -- 20 coming this season with the Stars -- and driven in 92 runs while batting .294. He was a shoe-in for the Southern League All-Star Game, will participate in Sunday's XM All-Star Futures Game at Yankee Stadium and is one of 60 players under consideration for the 24-man U.S. Olympic Team roster. LaPorta, a self-proclaimed perfectionist who spends hours watching film of Albert Pujols and other favorite players, said he didn't expect to be doing this good this fast, but he really hasn't thought about it much. "You just have to go out there and do your job," LaPorta said. "You can't worry about the expectations people put on you." Neither Shapiro nor LaPorta will speculate on how soon he is expected to move up to the big leagues and neither will pinpoint an ideal position for the outfielder/first baseman -- LaPorta said he's equally comfortable at both. "I try not to put goals like that on myself," LaPorta said. "Again, you can only go out there and work hard every day to get better. For now, LaPorta has a little time to catch his breath -- and find some new clothes.
Andrew Gribble is an associate reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.