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Brantley Must Spark Offense At The Top In 2012

| On 05, Nov 2011

The 2011 season appeared to be the birth of Michael Brantley’s Major League career as an everyday player, but his break out season may not be enough as the Indians move forward in 2012. Now, Brantley needs to assert himself not just as the team’s leadoff hitter, but the catalyst to an offense who has to score runs to see the Indians hopes of October come to fruition.

Brantley hit .266, with seven home runs and 46 runs batted in for the Indians in 2011, while bouncing between the first, second and seventh spots in the batting order and shuffling from centerfield to leftfield at times because of Grady Sizemore. However, it appears Sizemore’s stay with the Indians is complete. With early rumors that the Red Sox, Nationals, Marlins, Giants and Mariners all have interest in the former star, it seems unlikely the Indians will resign him like they have whispered about.

Assuming Sizemore’s Indian career complete and a thin pool of centerfielders on the free agent market, it is safe to believe Brantley will be expected to replace Sizemore’s two largest roles as an Indian. Surely no one expects Brantley to become the 30 home run threat Sizemore was when healthy, but Brantley needs to become something Sizemore never was, a .300 hitter.

Brantley, who will not turn 25 until May 15, has excelled at each level through his progression as a professional, often hitting over .300, with a high on base percentage, during his second full season at that level. After bouncing between AAA and the big league level in 2009 and 2010, it would be fair to consider 2011 his first full season, making 2012 his hopeful breakout season.

Early in 2011 Brantley showed signs, hitting .297 in April and .278 in May before hitting a June swoon. Once injuries began to hamper him, his average plummeted and when his wrist finally became too much to play through, his season average had fallen all the way to .266. His drop in production has to be attributed to injuries during the summer months. Brantley desperately tried to play through wrist issues that eventually ended his season and caused surgery in August.

Also, the reigns need to be removed from Brantley and he needs to be allowed to run. Through his minor league career he stole over 24 bases in each season. Last year he only swiped 13 bags. A leadoff hitter who could hit .280 to .300 and swipe 25-30 bases is quite a spark, one the Indians have been searching for since Sizemore began breaking down in 2008.

With the lofty expectations of 2012 for the club and the divorce of Sizemore, any lineup constructed will most likely have Brantley’s name at the top and probably in centerfield, followed in some way by Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Santana, Travis Hafner, and hopefully, a right handed power hitter. Brantley’s ability to reach base and produce has to rise past his 2011 levels if the Indians expect to build an offense strong enough to compete through a 162-game schedule.

Every explosive offense begins with a spark. Brantley needs to start the fire at the top in 2012.

Photo: Getty Images