The Atlanta Braves seem to always have good luck in producing talent. From Chipper Jones to Brian McCann to Freddie Freeman, the team has been remarkably consistent in identifying young players with major leaguer ability. It’s a system that has kept Atlanta annually replenished and in contention, something that few teams can claim. One of the most recent additions to Atlanta’s machine is Matt Lipka, a player the Braves think will be a franchise fixture for years to come.
Coming out of high school in Frisco, Texas in 2010, Lipka was one of the most athletic players on the draft boards. In addition to blazing speed, he was a star on the gridiron as a wide receiver, earning All-State honors twice and catching more than 50 total touchdowns thrown by Zach Lee, himself a top round baseball draft pick in 2010. Lipka decided to stick with baseball and the Braves took the right-handed shortstop with the 35th overall pick in the first round. It was a great fit from the beginning, as Lipka had spent a major portion of his childhood living in Atlanta and idolizing Chipper Jones.
Lipka got his first taste of professional experience in 2010, playing 52 games in the lowest levels of the Braves’ system. His speed was immediately evident, as he hit .288 with 21 stolen bases. On the other hand, his 1 home run showed the area of his game that faces the most development. He stole another 28 bases in 2011, but struggled to show consistency in the 127 games he played in A-ball. The biggest part of his season came at the end when the Braves informed him that they planned to move him to centerfield and make the most of his athleticism.
Lipka began the 2012 season in High-A ball and faces adjusting to his new position while continuing to improve in all aspects of his game. He has the physical tools and the Braves believe that combined with his work ethic and baseball IQ that everything will eventually come together and turn him into a major league player.
I was able to chat with Lipka this past off-season as he prepared for his most challenging season. He provided a lot of insight about being in the spotlight while working for a professional baseball career. For more information on this exciting prospect, checkout his statistics at http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=lipka-003mat. He is also a must-follow on Twitter, where you can monitor his 2012 season.
Matt Lipka Interview:
Who were your favorite team and player when you were growing up, and why?: Being born and raised in Georgia for the majority of my life, I was a huge Atlanta Braves fan. I was an even bigger Chipper Jones fan; the way he went about playing the game and how he always came up clutch in big situations is what made him my favorite. Its guys like him that you want to turn into and mold your game after.
How did you know that the Braves were interested in you?: One day at one of my high school practices my area scout, Gerald Turner, showed up with the Director of Scouting for the Braves, Tony Demacio. After practice they invited me to go to a pre-draft workout at Turner Field in Atlanta. There wasn't a chance that I was going to miss my favorite team’s workout, so I went and showed well and came away with a good feeling that I had put myself in a good position.
Can you describe what your draft day experience was like?: Draft day was crazy. I was extremely anxious and obviously hoping that I would be off the board on day one. So sitting by the computer with my family we sat through pick by pick, then a few of the teams that I had done pre-draft workouts for had upcoming picks and we knew that this would be the time. Atlanta's pick came at number 35 and Rod Gilbreath came up to the podium and made the announcement, ‘The Atlanta Braves choose Matthew Lipka, a shortstop from McKinney High School.’ We all went crazy; of course momma was crying, and I think my dad almost shot the computer chair through the wall when he jumped up with excitement. But no doubt the best feeling I have ever had to finally see all my hard work pay off, and to be able to fulfill my dream with my favorite team since I was a kid was just picture perfect. I definitely could not have drawn it up any better. And to share all of that with my family who has been there for me since day one and has done everything for me was just icing on the cake.
You and high school teammate Zach Lee were both drafted in the first round. How much of the draft preparation and experience did you share together?: We shared a good bit of it together. I met with all 30 teams, and because we were both from the same school a lot of the scouts wanted to kill two birds with one stone by meeting with us at our high school clubhouse. I'd say we probably went through about 15 of the teams up there, doing all the tests and answering their questions about our interest in pro ball and all sorts of stuff. Very neat experience, and to have a friend to talk to about it that understood what you were going through was a relief.
How did the Braves approach you with the idea to move you from shortstop to center field?: I had just gotten to the hotel in Orlando for the 2011 Instructional League, and I got a call from Bruce Manno. Just told me that even though I had a great year at short the Braves thought that I would be able to help the big club sooner at center field. And for me that was all I needed to hear; I will play anywhere as long as it benefits the team. Also my speed plays much better at center; it brings me back to my football days playing wide receiver and tracking balls down which eased the transition for me. It didn't take me long to get used to it, and now I feel like I have been there for my whole life. I have gotten after it this offseason, working out at the Michael Johnson Performance Center. I have leaned up and gotten stronger, worked on flexibility, and worked on a ton of speed stuff. On top of that I do all my baseball stuff. I am very excited for a great year at a new position.
If you could do anything differently about your baseball career to date, what would that be?: I don't think I would do anything differently. Playing varsity football all four years in high school made me fairly raw compared to my peers, who for the majority played full time baseball, but I wouldn't trade those days for anything. I think it made me a much better athlete and made me a lot tougher in the long run. Not to mention I experienced a lot of success and had the time of my life playing football in Texas. Two time All-State and was going to the University of Alabama for baseball and football. It is almost impossible to stay away from football here; nothing like Friday Night Lights! But now I am strictly baseball, I am more focused than ever and I always will be making improvements and learning new things every day.
Do you ever get a chance to interact or get advice from Atlanta players?: The Braves sent us out to a Rookie Development Camp last year at Turner Field in Atlanta. We met all the Braves coaching staff and they even had Chipper and Brian McCann come in and talk to us. Both stressed how you will always be faced with adversity at some point in your career, but it is important that you embrace adversity and not let it affect you. About how some of the best baseball players have some of the shortest memories, learning to flush things and not carrying it around with you. Keeping that attitude is key in the game of baseball, where if you fail 7 out of 10 times you're an all-star. Definitely a great experience and a great opportunity for me to be able to be a part of that camp and to amp up my game in all aspects. The mental side is just as important as the physical side in baseball.
What do you consider to be the strongest aspects of your game?: I would say the strongest assets of my game are definitely my speed, work ethic, and resilience. Speed is something that you can't teach and it can impact every part of the game. I am still finding ways to get faster and faster and still learning how to steal bases and getting the most out of my speed.
Another asset is my work ethic. I am always going to give it 110% and I always hustle, you can't let anyone out-work you if you want to be the best. And last, I am very resilient. I play this game because I love it. I am never going to get down on myself and if something isn't working I will always find a way to fix it. Quitting is never an option; success is the only option and I am going to give it everything I have until I can no longer play this game.
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