More To Come From Lipka

Lipka is currently in the 7-day DL

LYNCHBURG, VA - The high-A Lynchburg Hillcats have some serious raw talent roaming around the middle of their outfield. A first round pick by the Braves in 2010, Matt Lipka has the potential to become a five-tool player and a Major League mainstay in the Braves organization.

A true leadoff hitter, 20-year-old Matt Lipka has always been able to use his speed to his advantage, and now that he has shown Hillcats coaches his natural ability, it's up to him to develop that speed, along with the rest of the tools he brings to the table.

"He's gifted with speed," hitting coach Bobby Moore said. "That's his strong point, and in order to utilize that speed you have to be on base. With him being a leadoff guy with speed who needs to be on base more, he could improve on his pitch selection, knowing the strike zone. He's done well, but you always can improve."

Offensively, Lipka is always searching for different ways to get on base and use his speed. Bunting skills are a must for any good leadoff hitter, and knowing the strike zone and going after the right pitches will also be a priority for him. Lately, he's even been working on reading pitchers in order to get better jumps on base stealing attempts.

"Offensively he started struggling because he started trying to do too much," manager Luis Salazar said. "He tried to hit a lot of fly balls, and when you have speed you need to hit the ball on the ground. His game is speed, stealing bases, hitting the ball on the ground and letting his ability do the rest."

Although there are still some rough edges to smooth out, there is a lot to like about his game. Getting on base is still the main goal for Lipka, but he can still show off some power when the time is right.

"The balls that I hit out are line drives anyway, so I mentally don't have the approach that I'm going to go up there and drive the ball out of the ballpark," Lipka said. "I like to stay gap oriented and line drive oriented, get on base, get my walks and steal bases."

Perhaps the most impressive part of the past year has been Lipka's transition from shortstop to centerfield, which he undertook late last year. With much more space to work with, it didn't take long for the speedster to make himself at home.

"It took me about a week until I really felt natural out there, and I felt like I was an outfielder and that I really belonged out there," Lipka said. "I think I'm an above average defender already. The top for defense is a Gold Glove in the major leagues, so you keep working on everything until you get there."

The importance of a good centerfielder in the outfield goes without saying, and Lipka has shown his willingness to take charge.

"It's his first year playing centerfield, and he's doing a superb job," Moore said. "He's taking good routes on balls, being a captain in centerfield and controlling it. He's been an all-around captain out there. He's always learning, always wants to get better."

As of late, Lipka has been sidelined by a nagging hamstring injury that will keep him out until mid-July, and although the team would love to have him back, both Lipka and the Hillcats want to be sure that he is back at full strength.

"It's not too bad," Lipka said. "That's a big thing too, trying to stay healthy because it's just been freak injuries. I've never had anything hamstring related."

Even though getting healthy is Lipka's number one priority at the moment, nobody has any long term concerns about his ability to stay in the lineup. It's all about growing and getting better, and if he reaches his potential, Moore thinks Lipka can make a place for himself on a Major League roster someday.

"He's got a chance to be an everyday centerfielder in the Major Leagues," Moore said. "He could be a .270 to .300 type of hitter who gets on base and steals 30 plus bases. He's got all the intangibles to be a good Major League centerfielder."

When Matt Lipka laces up the spikes again, there will still be things to improve on, but after already improving by leaps and bounds, the Braves fans can be confident that there is more to come.

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