Matt LaPorta: 2010 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper Selection

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Matt LaPorta: 2010 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper Selection
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Matt LaPorta is a player that has been on fantasy radars for some time but for one reason or another has not taken the step expected of him.

Once considered one of the top prospects in the game (Baseball America ranked him in the top 30 in both 2008 and 2009), he is flying a bit under the radar this season.

Maybe it’s due to him being on our minds for so long yet never reaching his full potential. Injuries have been part of the problem, as well as his opportunity in the Major Leagues.

In 2010, that all should change.

Even with the signing of Russell Branyan, the Indians are a team looking more towards the future. The trades of Victor Martinez and Cliff Lee last season proved that. There should be ample at bats for LaPorta, either at first base or in the outfield, giving him his chance to show just how productive he can be.

He showed glimpses in 2009, posting the following statistics:

181 At-Bats
.254 Batting Average (46 Hits)
7 Home Runs
21 RBI
29 Runs
2 Stolen Bases
.308 On-Base Percentage
.442 Slugging Percentage
.281 Batting Average on Balls in Play

Again, those numbers don’t represent his true potential. He has the power to hit 25 home runs or more if given the opportunity to play every day. In 2008, between two Double-A teams, he hit 22 home runs in just 362 AB. Last season, prior to being recalled, he hit 17 home runs in 338 AB.

He certainly puts enough balls in the air to support those marks. Over his minor league career he posted a fly ball rate of 45.0 percent. Last season he took a step back in the Major Leagues at 41.8 percent. While he may not see an increase in his HR/FB rate (at 11.5 percent last season), he could increase his fly ball rate, which will lead to more home runs.

For a power hitter, he makes decent contact, with a strikeout rate of 20.4 percent last season (and 19.8 percent for his minor league career). He hit .291 in the minors, a number that he easily could come close to in the Major Leagues as long as he can maintain last year’s strikeout rate.

Along with a little bit more power, he should also enjoy some more luck than he did last season. If he had enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, he would’ve been in the bottom 35 in the league. He’s proven throughout his minor league career to be a better hitter than that.

I wouldn’t say that he’s going to be a .300-plus hitter, but his skill set certainly portrays a .270 hitter or better, doesn’t it?

With the Indians looking to rebuild, by the end of the season they could be pushing LaPorta, looking to see exactly what they have in him. Considering he was the main part of the return from the CC Sabathia trade, don’t you think they should?

That means while he’s likely to open the year hitting towards the bottom of the lineup, he could be thrust into the middle of things before long. All it will take is struggles from Jhonny Peralta or Travis Hafner for that to happen even sooner than expected.

My 2010 projection for him:

.276 (152-for-550), 24 HR, 80 RBI, 75 R, 3 SB, .302 BABIP, .348 OBP, .475 SLG

Those are solid numbers, but the potential is there for him to significantly outperform them, especially in the average and RBI departments. At 25 years old, now is the time for him to show all that potential we’ve been hearing about. In fact, while I wouldn’t expect him to come close to the RBI, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him perform similarly to Ryan Ludwick circa 2008 (.299, 37 HR, 113 RBI, 104 R).

That’s just how good he could be, meaning taking the flyer on him at the end of your draft is certainly a no-brainer.

What are your thoughts? Could LaPorta be that good? Is he a player you are targeting?

If you would like to see a free preview of the Rotoprofessor 2010 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide (available for just $5), now including a Top 50 Prospects for 2010 List, click here.

For some 2010 projections, click here. Among those we’ve already covered:

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