Cleveland Indians Say Hello to Matt LaPorta

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Cleveland Indians Say Hello to Matt LaPorta

It's official. Matt LaPorta is now an Indian. Along with LaPorta, Zach Jackson, Rob Bryson, and a player to be named later (PTBNL) were traded from Milwaukee to Cleveland for C.C. Sabathia.

My initial reaction was "Great job, Shapiro," despite not naming any one of the four prospects that I was looking forward to seeing don Chief Wahoo. The trade is being compared to the last time Cleveland traded an ace, back in 2002 when Bartolo Colon was moved to the Expos.

During the Indians' press conference, Shapiro did his best to shoot down that speculation, citing the unique situation with the Expos and a changing environment in baseball in general. Shapiro additionally stated that the timing of the trade was vital. He stated,

Two of (the teams) clearly stated, that the player had more value to them now. That they may not be in it at this level, or may not be in it at all in two or three weeks.

 

It will be interesting to hear the rumors of who was offered by other teams, but for now, let's reflect on the trade as is.

It will also be of interest to see what other trades occur, be it A.J. Burnett, Erik Bedard, or a move that is from left field. The Brewers landed the best available pitcher, which immediately makes them look good.

The keystone of the trade was a player whom the front office was not sure where he would play. Between Fielder, Braun, and Hart, the positions LaPorta is capable of playing were filled for what appears to be long term.

That said, C.C. Sabathia will come in and give Milwaukee a legitimate one-two punch atop their rotation. If Sheets can remain healthy, this is arguably the top pair in all of baseball (although, I am admittedly biased).

Even still, Sabathia provides insurance in the event that Sheets does go down with an injury. This also adds some variety to a fairly righty-heavy rotation.

Clearly, there cannot be enough said about Sabathia. He is an outstanding hurler who will eat innings, and if he continues on his current roll, will absolutely shred apart the National League. Playing in what is a fairly neutral park will not hurt Sabathia's production.

This deal also makes sense for the Brewers, as they have been outstanding at drafting lately. Even if they are unable to resign Sabathia, the picks they will receive will restock the club. The additional revenue from a legitimate postseason push will also help this rebuilt franchise.

Sitting only 3.5 games behind the Cubs for first, the Brewers are legitimate contenders in the terrible National League. Some improvements from underachieving players and a trade to help out the bullpen, and this team should be the National League's representative in the World Series.

In return for the big man, Shapiro and the Indians grabbed one of the best hitting-prospects in all of baseball, as well as two, possibly three, sound prospects.

Matt LaPorta is a position-less power hitter who has zoomed through the minors, rapidly reaching AA. He was drafted in the first round of 2007, and in 108 minor-league games, LaPorta has quickly adjusted to swinging wood, hitting 31 home runs. At 23-years old, LaPorta is clearly one of the top prospects in all of baseball.

LaPorta's stock entering the draft was obviously high. He was drafted in the 14th round of the 2006 draft by the Boston Red Sox, after what is being called an 'injury-riddled junior year'. LaPorta instead decided to return to the University of Florida for his senior year. 

Obviously, it was a wise decision, as LaPorta ended up being drafted nearly 400 picks earlier by the Brewers. Interestingly, LaPorta was still viewed as a first-round pick in 2006.

Kevin Goldstein rated LaPorta as the No. 15 prospect entering the 2007 draft, citing his outstanding senior season. Goldstein noted LaPorta's 20 home runs in 169 at-bats, coupled with 16 strikeouts. As a side note, home-run-to-strikeout ratio is definitely an underutilized statistic.

All that being said, LaPorta was tabbed as the "best pure hitter in the draft."  The scouting report on LaPorta at the time stated,

LaPorta has as much power as any bat, especially from the college ranks, in this draft class. He's got power to all fields and can hit the ball out of any ballpark with any kind of bat.

And,

He may never win a gold glove, but he's been OK at first defensively this year...Unless someone thinks he can play another position—not a common belief—LaPorta is limited to first base or DH duties in the future.

 

Nobody is going to argue that LaPorta's defensive abilities are minimal at best. But the best claim appears courtesy of Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein, who reminds readers that LaPorta has made an alarmingly low amount of putouts this season, thus asserting that LaPorta's range/awareness are minimal. Welcome to the American League, kid!

Despite the defensive issues, LaPorta was tabbed as not needing a lot of time in the minors. This is good news for the Indians, who could use LaPorta's power sooner, rather than later. It is probably a good idea that the Brewers traded Zach Jackson, as his existence within the organization would have led to a lot of confusion with Zach Johnson.

Both are young, lefty pitchers, with one being a first-round pick, the other being around to confuse the accounting department.

Zach Jackson began his professional career with an outstanding start in the Blue Jays' minor-league system. During his first season of pro ball, he went from High-A to AAA. This was clearly a mistake by the Jays, as Jackson should have come along a lot slower.

The club ended up trading him after his first season to the Brewers in the Lyle Overbay trade. The Brewers didn't do Jackson any favors, keeping him at AAA as a struggling 23-year old. This damage has been particularly noted, as Jackson's career high in innings pitched stands at under 170, during the 2007 season.

John Sickels rated Jackson as a B prospect for his first season in the Brewers' system. That was a nice grade for such a young pitcher, but that grade has dropped to a C grade entering this season. Jackson gives the Indians a major-league ready left-handed pitcher, but essentially nothing else.

Being predominantly used out of the bullpen this season, it will be interesting to see what the Indians have in mind with Jackson. Obviously, Shapiro did his homework. Let's see if he was right.

Young, righty reliever Robert Bryson has taken a step back during his age-20 season but has still been effective. Sickels rated Bryson as a C+ prospect this season, although I'm not certain if that is more reflective of Sickels' opinion on 19-year-old relievers, or on a purely-stuff analysis.

Goldstein rated Bryson as the 10th-best prospect in the Brewers' organization. Here is what Goldstein wrote about Bryson entering this season, 

Year In Review: A $300,000 draft-and-follow from the gambit's last season in existence, Bryson looked to be worth every penny in his pro debut. The Good: Bryson offers plenty to dream on. He has strong mechanics with a good leg drive and quick, fluid arm action, which allows him to pound the strike zone with 91-94 mph fastballs while occasionally hitting 96 when he rears back for something extra. He shows some feel for a slider, and seems to bring his entire game a step forward in pressure situations. The Bad: Because he's from Delaware and has just one year of junior college experience, Bryson is pretty unrefined. He needs to find much greater consistency with his breaking ball, and his changeup is rudimentary, which gives him problems against left-handed hitters. More than anything else, he just needs innings. He has a stocky build, and might need to watch his conditioning down the road. Fun Fact: In Bryson's final start for Seminola College, he struck out 12 over eight shutout innings, allowing just two hits—while throwing 132 pitches. Perfect World Projection: Bryson's ceiling is considerably high, but he's also far from it. Timetable: Bryson will make his highly-anticipated full-season debut at Low-A.

 

The gamble certainly has paid off for the Brewers, although I wonder what they saw as his long-term role. Shapiro tabbed him as a "reliever," but Bryson appears to be spending a decent amount of time logging long innings.

Overall, it feels as if Bryson is a lot like the Indians' Jensen Lewis, which isn't a bad thing at all. Lastly, the PTBNL, apparently this was a vital part of the trade and it will be interesting to see who the player is. Shapiro is quoted as saying, "The deal doesn't get done without the" PTBNL.

Typically, teams are provided with a list of players whom they can scout slightly closer and pick a player from that list. The Indians apparently have until the end of the season to make their decision, although from the sounds of things, the decision is already made.

Chances are, the player is playing at a low level of the minors, and Shapiro wants to get a closer look at him. That being the case, two of the four players I mentioned previously would still be in play. Braddock, a personal favorite of mine, and Frerichs, a player whom intrigues me to a great extent.

As a side note, I think the Brewers have corned the market on players named 'Zach', wow!

Clearly this was the best trade on the table, and as I mentioned, a trade Shapiro HAD to pull the trigger on. Waiting could have given the Brewers cold feet, or could have resulted in a Sabathia injury. In fact, a solid Tribe winning streak would have made it difficult for Shapiro to pull the trigger on this deal. 

However, during the press conference, Shapiro discussed why he chose to trade Sabathia rather than hold onto him for draft picks. He stated the expected time frame of a drafted player (three to five years), as well as development, were important factors.

Shapiro claims that even a player moving up to High-A ball is far ahead of player to be drafted next season. As an Indians fan, I love this trade. I feel as though there really isn't a winner or a loser. The Brewers should be able to replace LaPorta, Bryson, and the PTBNL with the compensatory picks, not requiring any one of them immediately.

The Indians have more pressing needs and will benefit from LaPorta, who immediately becomes the club's No. 1 prospect and strengthens a solid minor-league system (I will provide an Indians prospect list after this week).  

As a supporter/bandwagoner of the Tampa Bay Rays, this trade also works out well. The Red Sox and Yankees are now out of the Sabathia sweepstakes.

Additionally, with six games remaining against the Indians, the odds of facing Sabathia at least once were substantial. Now, the Rays will benefit from facing Jeff Weaver at least once...not a terrible turn of events for the Rays, despite a heartbreaking loss this afternoon.

Update—July 7, 2008—5:15PM EST: According to MLB.com, the PTBNL is reported to be either Taylor Green or Michael Brantley, "both of whom are considered prime prospects." From what I can see, both would be outstanding additions and would each have a promising big-league career ahead.  

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