It was a deal that was supposed to pave the way back to the playoff promise land. Left-hander C.C. Sabathia, fresh off his Cy Young campaign and just months left under team control, was poised for a massive un-Cleveland-like payday. And with the Indians lingering at the bottom of the Central Division, the front office brass opted for the prudent choice – deal arguably the best homegrown pitcher in franchise history in recent memory and look towards next year.
In stepped the resurgent Milwaukee Brewers, four games back from the division-leading Cubs and looking to end a 20-year-plus playoff drought. The Brewers’ top offer – first baseman/outfielder Matt LaPorta, pitchers Zach Jackson and Rob Bryson, and the eventually later-to-be-named Michael Brantley – would top that of several competing teams including the Phillies, who would eventually pry another ace away from Cleveland, and Rays.
At the time, LaPorta, who was the seventh overall pick just one year prior, was viewed by many as Milwaukee’s top prospect – a potential middle-of-the-order thumper with plus-power and a solid eye at the plate. And more importantly for Cleveland, Milwaukee already paid out his $2 million draft bonus.
LaPorta skipped through low Class A during his pro debut, nary breaking a sweat en route to hitting .318/.392/.750 while topping the league average offensive production by 89%. The Brewers aggressively pushed the former collegiate senior straight to Class AA to begin the next year and he hardly slowed down: .288/.402/.576 with 20 homeruns prior to the trade.
LaPorta was, or so it seemed, one of those can’t-miss-and-won’t-miss prospects nearing big league readiness.
And CAL saw it coming.
In my two debut pieces for Beyond The Box Score I introduced a player classification system dubbed CAL, or Comparison And Likeness (read about it here and here). Basically, CAL’s algorithms are designed to search through the database and find similar prospects to help in player evaluation – the better the comparisons the more likely that player is destined to fulfill his potential and likewise for the opposite.
Using only the data available to the Indians prior to the draft, here’s what CAL thought of LaPorta:
With all due respect, it’s not a very promising list – certainly not for a player that was looked upon as an impact bat and centerpiece to one of the biggest trade’s in franchise history. Borenstein, whom the Angels just moved, is an outfielder destined for a backup role; Hefflinger’s production stalled out in the middle levels; Catricala was a colossal bust; Souza’s a 25-year-old that just sniffed the big leagues for the first time; and Strieby is out of baseball all together.
But what about adding another year of great production to LaPorta’s resume? Including his work in Class AAA with the Indians the following season – he hit .299/.388/.530 with 17 homeruns in 93 games – CAL was still quite down on the Tribe’s new prospect:
Evans and Fox are the quintessential Quad-A types. Brito never made it to the bigs. Van Slyke is carving out a nice role a part-timer. And the jury’s still out on Gyorko.
Among the top five CALs for LaPorta just two – Gyorko and Van Slyke – has had any reasonable success in the big leagues.
Chalk another one up to CAL.