Brewers sign top Draft pick

Brewers sign top Draft pick

MILWAUKEE -- Cindy LaPorta earlier this month stumbled across several stories her son, Matt, had written as a young boy about his ambition of someday being a professional baseball player.

That dream officially became a reality on Monday afternoon, when the Brewers announced LaPorta had signed a contract with the club. Milwaukee's first-round pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft took batting practice with the team at Miller Park before the Brewers-Astros game, watched by team officials and, of course, his proud parents.

"It means a lot to me and my family," LaPorta said. "It just goes to show you that having faith in God, things will work out, because if it wasn't for Him, I wouldn't be here."

LaPorta is the 29th player Milwaukee has signed out of its Draft haul of 46, and the seventh overall pick is the highest-chosen player in the 2007 Draft to have signed so far.

Jack Zduriencik, Milwaukee's amateur scouting boss, declined to reveal LaPorta's signing bonus. The players who had gone at the seventh pick in the last three years each received a bonus of $2.3 million, and LaPorta, who is represented by agent Scott Boras, is believed to have settled near that figure as well.

The University of Florida product injured his right quadriceps muscle in a game against Kentucky in April, and Zduriencik said the Brewers will send LaPorta down to their rookie-ball affiliate in the Arizona League to treat his injury.

LaPorta will leave Phoenix for Class A West Virginia only when his leg heals completely.

"We're going to take it real slow with him," Zduriencik said. "I don't think we're on any timeframe to get him out of there in a hurry. I think our goal is to get him healthy. We know what Matt can do, and we just want to make sure that he gets down there and he gets himself back."

LaPorta, a two-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, batted .402 with 20 home runs and 52 RBIs during his senior season at Florida. The 6-foot-1 slugger hadn't swung a bat in a few weeks while his agents and the Brewers negotiated his contract, and he got off to a slow start on Monday with Brewers pitching coach Mike Maddux feeding him batting practice pitches.

LaPorta bunted his first three pitches and, even before taking his first swing, tossed his cap away.

"It was the bill," he later said, laughing. "It was bent too much. It was distracting me out of the corner of my eye."

He then fouled the ball straight up on his first swing, before cracking a line drive to center on his following hack.

LaPorta ended up taking four rounds of about 15 swings each. He hit his first home run on his second swing in the third round, a booming shot to straightaway center. LaPorta finished with two homers in the third round and three in the fourth.

"He's got a lot of power," said LaPorta's father, Vince. "The kid is just incredibly strong. He wasn't one to lift weights and that kind of thing. They said at the University of Florida that he was country strong, and he really is that."

Brewers manager Ned Yost said Maddux approached him after the session and said LaPorta's swing reminded him of Phillies outfielder Pat Burrell's. But Yost said he had absolute faith in Zduriencik's scouting ability, and he knew the Brewers had drafted a special player in LaPorta even before he saw him swing a bat.

"I'm confident in Jack Zduriencik," Yost said. "If Jack drafted Pee-Wee Herman, I'd be happy. I think I'd be feeling pretty good about it."

LaPorta also showed tremendous plate discipline during his college career, drawing 55 walks and striking out just 16 times his senior season. The young slugger had a simple philosophy for approaching at-bats.

"When it comes across the plate, just hammer it," he said.

That drew a grin from Zduriencik, who sat beside LaPorta during the press conference after the hitting session.

"That's music to our ears," he said.

The Brewers never doubted LaPorta's hitting abilities, but it remains to be seen how the burly 22-year-old handles the switch from first base to left field. LaPorta arrived at Florida as a catcher and also played left field during his freshman year, but he primarily manned first base the rest of his college career.

Brewers director of player development Reid Nichols, a former big-league outfielder, will tutor LaPorta in the outfield during his time in Arizona. LaPorta said his history of position switches gave him confidence he could once again adapt to the outfield.

"I think I'm a pretty good athlete," LaPorta said. "I'm pretty sure I can accomplish it."

Yost, who stood beside LaPorta chatting with him between his batting practice rounds, told the youngster that despite the hoopla surrounding his signing, he was about to embark on a journey that would not be glamorous at times.

"I told him, 'I don't really want to deflate you a little bit, but wait until you get to Arizona,'" Yost said. "It's going to be hot. You're up at five o'clock in the morning doing those morning workouts. I said, 'But, hey, you'll fall into the process of everyday baseball when you move on to your next level, and that's when it really starts to get fun.'"

It appears the LaPorta family can't wait for their son to embark on that journey.

Vince LaPorta went to high school in Chicago and still has many friends and family members living in the Windy City. He said he couldn't wait for the time when his son can take batting practice every day at Miller Park as a Brewer, and he's sure the young slugger will have a large entourage of fans cheering him on the day it happens.

"I'm speechless, really," Vince LaPorta said. "Draft day was just surreal. I broke down in tears just thinking that it was finally over, and he got drafted in the first round. It's just unbelievable."

Kelvin Ang is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.