2007 Draft Spotlight: Matt LaPorta
University of Florida senior first baseman Matt LaPorta took some time out before a crucial weekend series with LSU during the weekend of May 11-13 to speak exclusively with BaseballAnalysts.com about his college career and the upcoming Major League Baseball draft. LaPorta has been ranked as one of the top three college bats in the upcoming draft and has a good chance of being taken in the first round.
In his sophomore season, LaPorta slugged a school record 26 homers and hit .328/.438/.698. After an injury-marred 2006 junior season, in which he hit .259/.410/.538, LaPorta fell in the draft to the 14th round where he was picked by the Boston Red Sox. Unable to come to an agreement, LaPorta - who is advised by Scott Boras - returned to Florida for this senior year.
LaPorta has been nothing short of brilliant during his senior season at Florida with a line of .402/.582/.817 and 20 home runs in 52 games. The biggest knock on LaPorta is his defence, which is not that surprising considering he came to university as a catcher and moved to first base to accommodate slick-fielding Brian Jeroloman.
According to Baseball America, LaPorta has improved his approach and kept his hands inside the ball better this year. His plus-plus raw power remains a game-changing tool.
Not just a one-dimensional athlete, LaPorta was recognized during the 2006 Cape Cod Summer League season with the Daniel Silva Sportsmanship Award, which honors outstanding sportsmanship on and off the field. On May 22 of this year, LaPorta was announced as the SEC Baseball Player of the Year for the second time in his college career. LaPorta also won the award after his sophomore season.
BaseballAnalysts: Are you guys ready for a good series this weekend with LSU?
Matt LaPorta: Yeah, it's going to be a big series.
BaseballAnalysts: What goals do you have for the remainder of the college season?
Matt LaPorta: Just to help my team get to the SEC tournament and hopefully the regionals.
BaseballAnalysts: What do you think Florida has to do to be successful?
Matt LaPorta: We probably have to win three or four games out of the next two weekends to meet those goals. LSU and Tennessee are two very high-quality teams and we just have to go out and play our game and hopefully we'll come out on top.
BaseballAnalysts: Have you achieved all the goals you set out for yourself in college?
Matt LaPorta: Yeah, I think I've done a lot of things - more than I ever thought imaginable, really, going into college.
BaseballAnalysts: Were you happy about your decision to go to college? (LaPorta was drafted in the 14th round out of high school by the Chicago Cubs, which was his favorite team growing up).
Matt LaPorta: Oh yeah, definitely.
BaseballAnalysts: Do you have any specific highlights or key moments from your college career?
Matt LaPorta: Yeah, I mean there have definitely been some highs and lows but it's hard to say because every year there have been new experiences that have just brought new light to how I see things on and off the field. Obviously going to the College World Series (The University of Texas edged Florida in 2005) is pretty high and getting to play for the USA National team (in 2005 with teammates Adam Davis and Brian Jeroloman) was another high point.
BaseballAnalysts: What would it mean to you to win the College Player of the Year award?
Matt LaPorta: That would be, you know, a tremendous honor. I couldn't even explain... It would be a miracle. It would truly be a gift from God. That's all I can say.
BaseballAnalysts: Do you think you have a good shot at it... You're up against some very good competition.
Matt LaPorta: Oh yeah, there is great competition out there. Honestly, I couldn't tell you. We'll see what happens. It's a big honor; I'm sure whoever gets it is well deserving of it.
BaseballAnalysts: Who would have your vote?
Matt LaPorta: I'm probably going to have to go with my buddy (Vanderbilt pitcher and project first overall draft pick) David Price.
BaseballAnalysts: You've had some really outstanding numbers in your senior year. Has the strained oblique muscle that you had last year bothered you at all this season?
Matt LaPorta: No, not at all.
BaseballAnalysts: Have you had any injuries that have bothered you this year?
Matt LaPorta: I injured my quad a little bit and I missed the last couple of weekends, but nothing too big.
BaseballAnalysts: Would you attribute the strained oblique muscle to why your numbers were down during your junior year, or were there other factors?
Matt LaPorta: A lot of it had to do with that. But I tried to do way too much when I came back and tried to put up numbers like I would have through an entire season and it just wasn't possible. It hurt me.
BaseballAnalysts: Were you also trying to help pick up the slack for some of the other players who were having off-years offensively? I know both second baseman Adam Davis (drafted by Cleveland) and catcher Brian Jeroloman (drafted by Toronto) also struggled.
Matt LaPorta: Yeah, when I came up to the plate, I felt like I had a lot of pressure to get the runs in and, you know, I came out of my element and didn't stay within myself. I tried to do way too much.
BaseballAnalysts: What have been the biggest changes in your game this season?
Matt LaPorta: Just putting more of my faith in God and letting him lead the way, as well as playing baseball and having fun. Everything else will just take care of itself.
BaseballAnalysts: Are there any highlights from this specific year that you've really enjoyed?
Matt LaPorta: I've enjoyed all of it. I'm taking it all in because it's the last time I'll get to play college baseball. I'm enjoying every last minute of it.
BaseballAnalysts: So it's bittersweet?
Matt LaPorta: Yeah.
BaseballAnalysts: Are you looking forward to the opportunity to pursue a pro career?
Matt LaPorta: Oh definitely. It's my time to move on to the next step in my life after this college season.
BaseballAnalysts: You hit .250 last year in the Cape Cod League, along with solid on-base and slugging numbers... Do you think you have adequately proven to scouts that you can make the necessary adjustments from aluminum bats to wood?
Matt LaPorta: Yeah... but the oblique was still in the back of my mind [during the summer] and I don't think I played anywhere near where I could have if I hadn't had that injury. [Scouts] had seen me play up at the Cape and with Team USA and stuff.
BaseballAnalysts: What's the biggest difference between using the aluminum and the wood bats for you?
Matt LaPorta: You just have to trust your hands more. You can't try to hit a home run or get long because you won't hit the ball well.
BaseballAnalysts: What do you think are your personal strengths as a hitter?
Matt LaPorta: My ability to take pitches that are balls. And when I do get a pitch, I can capitalize on it and use my power.
BaseballAnalysts: What are some of the parts of your game that you think you need to continue to work on to get better?
Matt LaPorta: I think all aspects of my game. Baseball is a sport where you never really reach your full potential. Guys are always looking for ways to improve and get better every day. So, with that said, every aspect of my game has got to get better.
BaseballAnalysts: Let's switch focuses here for a bit and fast-forward to the draft. Do you have a preference as to which team selects you on draft day?
Matt LaPorta: No, not at all. I'd just be fortunate enough to get drafted and open that door to a new world and see what happens.
BaseballAnalysts: Would you like to go in the first round of the draft or is that even on your mind?
Matt LaPorta: None of that is really on my mind right now. I don't want to focus on anything I can't control. I just want to go out and play baseball, hit and do well. We'll see what happens with that other stuff.
BaseballAnalysts: Have there been any specific teams that have shown a lot of interest in you?
Matt LaPorta: Yeah, I've had quite a few teams that have shown some interest in me but, you know, it's still early. We'll see who really wants me closer to draft day.
BaseballAnalysts: Who did you follow growing up? Were you a baseball fan?
Matt LaPorta: Yeah, I was always watching the power hitting guys like Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. I was in Port Charlotte [Florida] so the Rangers always had spring training down there and I would go watch [Rafael] Palmeiro and those kinds of guys.
BaseballAnalysts: Did you follow the Rangers throughout the season too, or just in spring training?
Matt LaPorta: Yeah, I followed the Rangers but mostly I was a Cubs fan. My father was from Chicago and his dad is too. He would pick me up from school and we would go watch Cubs games.
BaseballAnalysts: Do you have any specific plans for draft day? Have you thought about that yet?
Matt LaPorta: Nah, I'm probably just going to hang out at my house and just relax and see what happens.
BaseballAnalysts: You're being advised by one of the most powerful agents in baseball. How did that end up happening? Did you approach him or did he approach you?
Matt LaPorta: They came up to me. It's funny, I remember when Alex Rodriguez got that $252 million deal with the Rangers and I was, at the time, thinking: 'Scott Boras, this guy's amazing.' I was only wishing and hoping that one day I could be good enough to have him as an adviser and so far it's coming to fruition.
BaseballAnalysts: Have you enjoyed working with him?
Matt LaPorta: I really enjoy the Boras Corporation. They're a great group of guys and they love baseball. That's the main thing: they're baseball guys.
BaseballAnalysts: Are you concerned at all about sliding in the draft because of your representation?
Matt LaPorta: No, because before I made the decision I put it in God's hands and it wasn't just a quick decision like I'm going to go with their group. You know, I prayed about it and asked God what I should do and he led me in that direction.
BaseballAnalysts: Are you disappointed that a deal did not get done with Boston last year after your junior season?
Matt LaPorta: No, not at all. When one door closes, another one opens and I got a chance to come back to college for another year and got to see two national championships, one in football and one in basketball. The people I've met this year, if I had gone to play pro ball I would never have met them. I'm going to make it to the majors whether I signed last year or this year.
BaseballAnalysts: Do you keep in touch with any of your former teammates who are in pro ball?
Matt LaPorta: Not so much because they're so busy and I'm very busy. It's just hard to find time to stay in touch with them.
BaseballAnalysts: Who is the toughest college pitcher that you've ever face?
Matt LaPorta: That would be my buddy Ian Kennedy. I only faced him once when we were at the USA tryouts. He struck me out with a fastball right down the middle of the plate. So basically he out-smarted me and I just tipped my hat and went back to the dugout. Just the way he pitches is so crafty and he's very smart.
BaseballAnalysts: What professional baseball goals have you set for yourself, if any?
Matt LaPorta: Making it to professional baseball, obviously, but that's about as far as it goes right now. I haven't been there so I don't have a base to set any goals. I don't know what it's like.
BaseballAnalysts: Are there any players on your team who have really impressed you that you think could be poised for a big breakout in the next year or two?
Matt LaPorta: Yeah, our shortstop Cole Figueroa. He's a freshman and he's going to be a phenomenal player and someone to watch out for in the next couple of years.
BaseballAnalysts: So the Blue Jays are going to regret not signing him after drafting him out of high school last year?
Matt LaPorta: Is that who drafted him?
BaseballAnalysts: Yes, it was.
Matt LaPorta: Oh yeah. He's a quality person and a great ballplayer.
BaseballAnalysts: If you weren't pursuing a career as a baseball player, what other career would you pursue?
Matt LaPorta: Entrepreneurialship. I'd like to buy and sell businesses. Things of that nature. And do a lot of investing... Kind of like Donald Trump. The guys on my team always give me crap for it.
BaseballAnalysts: Well, thank you very much for your time, Matt, and hopefully we'll get to talk again sometime.
Matt LaPorta: All right, sounds good. Take care.
BaseballAnalysts: You too.
A special thank you to John Hines of the University of Florida for helping to arrange the interview with the Gators' Matt LaPorta.