Saturday, May 2, 2009

Are the Indians faithful ready for LaPort-ucci?

The Cleveland Indians have promoted OF Matt LaPorta and infielders Luis Valbuena and Josh Barfield from Triple-A Columbus in a likely effort to bolster their offense and defense.  To make the moves, RP Joe Smith was placed on the 15-day DL, OF Trevor Crowe was sent down to Columbus, and IF Tony Graffanino was designated for assignment.

LaPorta, the crown jewel in the CC Sabathia deal last July and one of the Indians top prospects, has been promoted to Cleveland a day later than he likely should have.  Yesterday, David Dellucci was called up to replace Travis Hafner instead of the power-hitting LaPorta.  I know, what's the big flippin' deal.  It's only a day.  Well, a day IS a big deal when you are calling up David Dellucci ahead of a player as offensively gifted as LaPorta is.  His talent isn't the kind that you worry much about right or left handed pitching match-ups, unless you are Eric Wedge. 

Sure, Dellucci responded by going four for five with two doubles, but he had to be hearing the large footsteps of LaPorta's.  They are likely really loud now.

LaPorta brings the same type of offensive package that the departing Hafner once provided the Indians' organization.  The power-hitting OF/1B/DH can provide a run-producing bat in the middle of the lineup in a way that no other immediate Tribe player can.  He also may be a quick answer to the Indians' struggles with runners in scoring position.

LaPorta also gives the Indians some flexibility with regards to where they can play him.  Although LaPorta isn't going to be confused for Grady Sizemore any time soon, the big slugger can play the outfield, as well as first base and DH.  This could allow a whle bunch of playing time to a player that is long overdue.

Of course, Wedge had to go and say that he's a "complement" to David Dellucci.  Really?  LaPorta is a compliment to Dellucci?  Can you smell the platoon already?  Wedge, who is absolutely fixated on platoons, seems prepared to platoon the two players in left field.  What's not known is how LaPorta will fit into the first base and DH-situations.  It's likely that even with the potential outfield platoon, that LaPorta will find more at bats at his other positions.  A lot of that could depend on the other players brought up in today's moves.
Luis Valbuena will be making his Indians debut in the near future as well.  I have to believe that the Valbuena move is a direct wake-up call to Jhonny Peralta's 2009 struggles.  The potential is there to put Valbuena at second base, and move the slick-fielding Asdrubal Cabrera to his natural shortstop position.  Such a move would likely make the Tribe's defense much better in the infield  With Mark DeRosa at third base now, Peralta could be on his way out.  Although I don't think the Indians are there yet, this could be the early writing on the wall.  It also could be the first move that sees Peralta move to third next season.

Valbuena has proven to be more versatile than originally thought.  The second baseman has found time not only at his original position, but also at short and even some third base this year.  Valbuena will initially take over the role that Tony Graffanino has initially played as the Tribe's top utility player.  Whether or not he plays a bigger role could unfold over the next couple of weeks.

Barfield will step in as the Crowe/Speed replacement.  I still can't help but feel that there is more to Barfield than he will ever find in Cleveland.  With that said, I appreciate Barfield has been willing to move whereever the Indians have sent him without whining and complaining about it.  Remember, he came to Cleveland with a whole bunch of hype surrounding him, and a Dad that is highly involved, and a former major league slugger as well.  Barfield can play some defense as well, and if he finds his way into the lineup, won't be a liability in the field.

Of course, what happens in the future depends soley on Joe Smith, Travis Hafner and Jamey Carroll.  Smith should be back soon, although I think the likely move there will be Rafael Perez or Jensen Lewis getting sent down.  Travis Hafner could be out for the original 15-days, or longer.  If he comes back, it's doubtful that LaPorta will stay with the club, unless he forces their hand.  Carroll is the utility guy here, and if he's healthy, you'd have to imagine that Valbuena and/or Barfield would be in jeopardy.  Personally, Carroll is expendable to me.  I'd rather have Barfield OR Valbuena in the lineup any day of the week.

Either way, it should be interesting watching this new blood in the Tribe lineup as early as today.  Hopefully, they'll be as effective as Tony Sipp was to the pen.  Hopefully, Eric Wedge won't under-utilize these guys the way he has done in the past.

I won't hold my breath though.

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