Matt LaPorta ... heading to the Olympics.
Matt LaPorta is taking his game to the international stage as he has been named to play for the U.S. Olympic Team next month in China. LaPorta is one of at least four players from the Indians' minor-league system going to Beijing. Reliever Jeff Stevens of the Buffalo Bisons will join LaPorta on Team USA. Representing Canada will be Akron reliever T.J. Burton and Kinston outfielder Nick Weglarz.
“Just the chance to represent my country and bring back a gold medal, it would mean so much,” LaPorta said.
"I'm excited to see everything regarding the Olympics. I know some guys who will be competing there, so I'm looking forward to watching them. And again, I can't stress enough what an honor this is to represent my country."
LaPorta is considered the key player of four prospects acquired by the Indians last week in the trade of CC Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Also on the U.S. team is veteran reliever Mike Koplove, who pitched in five games for the Indians a year ago. The 31-year-old, who went 4-2 with 14 saves and a 2.50 ERA last summer for Cleveland's Triple-A affiliate at Buffalo, is 1-1 with seven saves and a 3.40 ERA for the Los Angeles' Dodgers' Triple-A club at Las Vegas.
The United States will play Canada in a four-game series Aug. 1-4 in North Carolina before the teams begin competition in China on Aug. 13. The U.S. will play Korea and Canada faces host China in the first round. The medal-round games will take place Aug. 23.
That means these players will be lost from their minor-league teams for about a month.
"Playing games is always going to help me out, no matter where it is," Laporta said Wednesday. "This is a special opportunity for me to play for this great country, so I think it will still help me as I move through the system."
LaPorta is hitting .375 (6-for-16) since being traded, hitting safely in all four games he's played for the Aeros. He hit the game-winning home run Friday night in Reading to lift the Aeros to a 3-2 comeback win.
Combined with his numbers in 84 games at Class AA Huntsville, he is hitting .292 with 23 doubles, 21 home runs and 70 RBI. He led the Southern League in home runs and was second in RBI at the time of the trade.
LaPorta played in the All-Star Futures Game at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, drawing a walk and hitting a second-inning single. It was one of just three hits for the United States team -- another was by Akron third baseman Wes Hodges.
LaPorta, the seventh overall pick in the 2007 draft out of the University of Florida, is no stranger to international competition. He was a member of the 2005 USA Baseball National Team, which played exhibition games against Japan and Canada.
"He is going to love facing some of these pitchers over there," U.S. manager Davey Johnson said of LaPorta. "This is no cake walk, because there are pitchers that we will be facing who could pitch in the majors right now, especially some of the Japanese pitchers. Matt is going to get some good experience from this opportunity."
Team USA general manager Bob Watson said LaPorta is considered one of the club's chief run producers.
"We love his makeup," said Watson, a former big-league star. "Matt is going to get a big head hearing all this stuff, but he's the type of player we wanted to have on our club.
"I don't know if Davey is going to hit him three, four or five. But he's going to hit in the middle of the lineup."
Johnson hinted that he may use LaPorta at first base. The 23-year-old was a catcher before being switched to first in college and has been playing the outfield in the pros. He played first base in the Futures Game.
"He's an outfielder, but I know he played first base at the University of Florida," Johnson said. "He looked awful good over at first base in the Futures Game.
"We've heard a lot of good things. The main thing I liked once I saw him is he's an aggressive hitter and he's got a good idea of what he's doing."
Stevens, acquired by the Indians from Cincinnati for infielder Brandon Phillips in April 2006, was also selected to the United States roster. He was 5-1 with one save and a 2.51 ERA in 17 appearances for Akron this season before being promoted to Triple-A Buffalo on June 3.
With the Bisons, the 24-year-old has gone 0-1 with five saves and a 3.92 ERA in 14 outings.
Stevens features an overpowering fastball. In 49 1-3 innings overall this season, he has struck out 65.