>Indians X-Factor: Matt LaPorta

>By The Common Man

We’re doing a few of these little “X Factor” posts in conjunction with ESPN’s season previews, which will run on the big site tomorrow. Keep an eye out.

It’s make-or-break time for Matt LaPorta, the central piece of the CC Sabathia trade two years ago, who showed so much offensive potential in the minors (.310/.400/.548 in 111 games at AAA). Last year was an unmitigated disaster for LaPorta, however, as he hit just .221/.306/.362 in 425 PAs, while mostly playing first base. That wouldn’t cut it from a shortstop, but it’s untenable from a key offensive position.

The Indians aren’t going anywhere in 2011, and are rightly focused on building from within. They had hoped that LaPorta was going to be an important part of that, but it’s looking less and less like he’s a building block, and more like he’s a quadruple-A hitter, a notion that’s supported by his horrible .148/.220/.370 Spring line. He’s only 26 in 2011, so he may not entirely be done developing. And there’s some chance that, even with more than 600 PAs under his belt, he’s been the victim of some bad luck. He does have just a .260 career BABIP, which doesn’t seem terribly sustainable, though some of that is due to his propensity to hit the ball in the air.

The restoration of the Cleveland Indians was already poised to be a slow process, especially since they have a lack of real boppers in the minors to begin with. LaPorta’s development, or lack thereof, in 2011 will dictate not only how the rest of his career will shake out, but how the rebuilding plan will have to adjust to compensate for a zero at a premium offensive spot.