Every year, there’s a member of the Cleveland Indians that becomes the victim of my doubts and hesitations. Last year, it was Justin Masterson as I was convinced he was not a formidable starter. Of course, he proved me wrong and I apologized.
This year, my letter of apology goes out to Michael Brantley.
I wasn’t as hesitant on Brantley as I was on Masterson, but I certainly wasn’t convinced that Brantley would be the player everyone else seemed to think he’d be. He’d shown signs of potential, as most players do, but he had yet to wow me or show any trace amount of consistency.
While Brantley is still not lighting up the field every night, he’s shown that as an everyday player, he’s effective and can be a game-changer.
Last year, Brantley hit .266 in his first full season with the club. His on-base percentage was too low and his defense was good, but not outstanding. He showed little power and little improvement that had me convinced he’d be another waste of time and effort.
In AAA-Columbus, he didn’t hit for high average, but he could get on base, steal bases, and produce runs. As he transitioned to Cleveland, it seemed as if those days were going to remain in Columbus.
Brantley swiped a total of 13 bases last season. This year, he’s already got nine. While this seems to be a long stretch from his 2009 season in the minors, where he stole 46 bags, it appears Brantley’s finally starting to get a feel for the basepaths.
Brantley may not be hitting longballs – he’s got one home run so far – but he’s been getting a good read on the ball and his swing looks much smoother. And while I don’t want to make any accusatory statements that he can’t handle pressure, it seems that hitting lower in the line-up has also helped.
Brantley looked miserable at the dish earlier this season as Manny Acta tried him in the lead-off spot. His OBP at one point was below .200 and his approach was atrocious as he couldn’t seem to watch pitches or hang while down in the count.
Now, Brantley’s boosted his average to .286. Though his on-base percentage could be higher, .325 is certainly tolerable now that he’s no longer hitting lead-off.
Brantley has also made some stellar plays in the outfield and though a couple great defensive plays don’t necessarily make one a good ballplayer (i.e. Quintin Berry), Brantley seems to be taking better paths en route to balls and let’s be honest – I’ll take him above Damon or Cunningham for his arm alone.
When Grady Sizemore returns, I’m still going to be one of those people with hope that Sizemore will be a contributing member of the ballclub. I know we’ll never see 2006 Sizemore again, but I still hold out hope that he can boost this team and help them in a playoff push.
That being said, if we do see the end of Grady Sizemore’s Cleveland career, I won’t be too upset with Brantley as the next heir to the throne. In fact, I think I’d prefer if Brantley remained in centerfield when Sizemore returns anyway.
Brantley has proved that he’s an important factor to this ballclub. He’s finding ways to get the bat on the ball and his 18-game hit streak is a prime indication that he can be consistent. In other words, Brantley has proved me wrong and shown that he could very well be an important factor in the future of the ball club.
Michael Brantley is no Kenny Lofton, but I’m okay with that. Brantley’s got a quiet demeanor about him and he plays the game without any flash, glitz, or glamour. I suppose one could even argue that he’s another form of Sizemore. Let’s just hope he keeps clear of the coffee cups.