The Florida native began his stay with the Gators by producing a 1.017 OPS and earning Freshman All-American honors. He followed that up with a 1.136 OPS and 26 home runs as a sophomore, priming himself as a solid bet to be an early first rounder in 2006. But a junior season where most of what could have gone wrong and little of what was supposed to go right transpired, leaving the 6-foot-2, 212-pounder under the control of the Boston Red Sox as a 14th rounder.
LaPorta made the decision not to sign again, opting instead to return to Florida for his senior season. This time everything went according to plan. The first baseman put up a 1.399 OPS and launched 20 home runs, a behemoth season that convinced the Milwaukee Brewers that LaPorta was deserving of the 7th overall pick of the 2007 Draft.
We caught up with LaPorta at the Arizona Fall League to talk about the quadriceps injury he played through this year, what it has been like to learn to man left field in pro ball, and what kind of hitter he strives to become.
If you'd prefer to listen to this interview, we've made the actual audio file that it was transcribed from available.
Adam Foster: Were you at all deflated when you slipped to the 14th round in 2006?
Matt LaPorta: No. We kind of knew what was going to happen. I just really put a lot of trust into God and just let him take his course...whatever happened happened, I didn’t worry about it.
AF: What was your mindset entering your fourth season with Florida?
ML: I really wanted to go back and just really give the whole burden playing my senior year and all the pressure to God and let him work through me. And it came out pretty good (laughs).
AF: How did your quadriceps injury affect your play down the stretch of the 2007 college season?
ML: It was tough because I wasn’t able to really leg anything out. If I hit a ball in the infield, I’d basically just turn around and go back to the dugout because I just couldn’t run. And it hurt some of my other players. If I was on first base and they hit a double, I wasn’t getting to third. I’d just stop at second so they’d be stuck with a single...stuff like that. It was just one of those things that I had to play through and overcome.
AF: And the oblique injury that you had your junior year was another thing you kind of played through. Was there ever a part of you that was like, “I keep playing through injuries and it’s slowing me down a bit.”?
ML: Yeah, I had a good senior year so I didn’t really look at it that much. But my junior year, the oblique really affected me I think. I just could never get back to the way I was swinging my sophomore year. And I just tried to do too much when I came back. But it’s a great learning experience.
AF: So when you had your quad injury, you were negotiating, then you signed and you were still kind of hobbled after you signed?
ML: Yeah, the quad injury happened the second week in April probably and I wasn’t really 100-percent until...middle of August, playing out in West Virginia. But I came out here and rehabbed.
AF: How was it coming back from that injury and having to start learning the outfield right away?
ML: That was tough because you have to run a little more than you do at first base. So I was kind of a little hesitant at first to really sprint after balls. But I’m starting to pick it up a little bit...starting to gain a little confidence every day in my quad.
AF: What kind of hitter would you describe yourself as?
ML: I’d like to describe myself as a complete hitter. I liked to become a better complete hitter, one that hits for power and average...and gap-to-gap line drives. To me, that’s more potent than a guy who just goes out and hits a bunch of home runs. That’s one of the things my dad has always talked to me about...“Go out and be a stick. Make contact with the ball and good things are going to happen.”
AF: I’ve also read that you take pride in being a disciplined hitter. And in college you definitely were one. You averaged 3.44 walks for every strikeout your senior year, but then in your pro debut – albeit a small sample size (115 at-bats) – you averaged 0.27 walks for every strikeout. What would you attribute that difference to?
ML: I was probably a little more anxious when I started playing professional baseball. I was trying to do too much in my swing...my timing was definitely not there. And when you try to do too much in baseball, it’s not a good recipe for success (laughs).
AF: Did you feel like as a guy who has been as a power hitter you needed to come out and start dropping bombs regularly?
ML: Not really. I knew the home runs were going to happen and they were going to come. I just had to stick with my approach. And once I did that, things started working out again.
AF: Given that a lot of people thought that your bat was going to allow you to climb the professional ladder quickly, there was some confusion around the team with the best young first baseman in baseball taking you seventh overall. But then reports started surfacing that the Brewers planned to test you in the outfield. When did first know that you may be moved to the outfield and what was your reaction to that possibility?
ML: I worked out with the Brewers two days before the draft – they wanted to see how I moved out there. And they felt that I did all right. And then the draft came – and we talked about it – and they said they were going to take me and move me to the outfield if they draft me. And I said, “OK, that’s fine with me.” I don’t mind moving around. I’ve played third, first, pitcher, catcher. It was a great opportunity to be with a good organization.
AF: You must have a good collection of gloves by now?
ML: Yeah (laughs). I’ve got boxes at home.
Adam Foster can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.