LaPorta called up and ready to play
Top prospect should see time at first base, in outfield
DETROIT -- The Indians sped up Matt LaPorta's big league timetable, but the airline carrying him and teammates Luis Valbuena and Josh Barfield from Triple-A to the Majors tried to slow him down.The trio saw their first flight from Durham, N.C., where Triple-A Columbus played Friday night, to Detroit canceled early Saturday morning. They were then placed on a connection through Chicago. "When the first flight was canceled, we were like, 'Come on!'" LaPorta said with a smile. "But they worked it out." And the drama was worth it for LaPorta, who was the only one of the three getting that precious call to the Major Leagues for the first time. The Indians made a major roster overhaul Friday, activating David Dellucci from the disabled list before their win over the Tigers and calling up outfielder LaPorta and infielders Valbuena and Barfield in place of reliever Joe Smith, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right rotator cuff, outfielder Trevor Crowe, who was optioned back to Columbus, and infielder Tony Graffanino, who was designated for assignment. LaPorta is certainly the most intriguing of the new callups, considering he was the Indians' prized acquisition when they dealt CC Sabathia to the Brewers last summer. Since that July day, LaPorta has been a focal point for fans. LaPorta projects to be a potent middle-of-the-order bat, and he certainly backed that up by batting .333 with five homers, four doubles, two triples, 14 RBIs and a 1.054 OPS in 21 games with the Clippers. "It's just about having good approaches and good at-bats," LaPorta said. "That's the most important thing." When Cleveland placed designated hitter Travis Hafner on the 15-day DL on Wednesday, the LaPorta talk reached a fever pitch. Fans were clamoring for the Indians to promote the 24-year-old from Port Charlotte, Fla., but the Indians tried to temper that enthusiasm by publicly implying LaPorta would be left where he is. Saturday's promotion, then, came as a bit of a surprise, even to the man himself. "I played first base [Friday] night," LaPorta said. "I was like, 'I haven't played first base in a year.' But I didn't think anything of it. After the game, I was walking back to the hotel. They called me like three times and said, 'Hey, you've got to get back here.'" Clippers manager Torey Lovullo delivered the good news. "He said, 'Hey, you're getting called up, you deserve it, you're ready for this challenge,'" LaPorta said. Manager Eric Wedge has the challenge of deciding how to incorporate the new faces into his nightly lineup. None of the newest callups were in it Saturday, but LaPorta and Valbuena (.321 average and .975 OPS), in particular, should have a chance to make an immediate impact. "You always like to see a young player that gets sent down and gets after it," Wedge said. "They both did that, no doubt about it." LaPorta started at first Friday so that he'd be prepared, should Wedge decide to play him at the position up here. "I have a first baseman's glove, but I left it back in Columbus," said LaPorta, who last played first at last summer's All-Star Futures Game at Yankee Stadium. "I had to use Andy Marte's [on Friday]." Wedge said he also feels comfortable using LaPorta in the corner outfield spots, and he is, of course, a candidate to get starts at DH. With left fielder Ben Francisco off to a slow start and Hafner on the DL, LaPorta should have plenty of opportunities to prove himself early on. The Indians are careful to get their top position player prospects consistent playing time, and they wouldn't be calling LaPorta up if he was simply going to sit. "He's coming up here for a reason," Wedge said. It's likely LaPorta, a University of Florida product who was the No. 7 overall pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, will see significant action against left-handed pitching, and the Indians are facing two lefty starters in Toronto on Monday and Tuesday. But on Saturday, LaPorta was just looking to get to town and get settled in. He arrived at his locker to find clubhouse manager Tony Amato had left him an Indians shirt roughly five sizes too small. "I think that's for a little kid or something," LaPorta said with a laugh. The late-night callup did not prevent LaPorta from getting his family here in time for Saturday's game. His wife, Dara, his parents, his uncle and his sister were all in attendance. In fact, they arrived to Motown before LaPorta did. And when it came to letting all his friends know about his promotion, LaPorta took the easy way out. He sent a couple text messages to people he knew would "spread the word around," and he updated his Twitter page, where he has the screen name "Gator4God." "It's easy to do," LaPorta said. "I sent a couple texts to it while I was sitting in the airport."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.