Brantley Remains Consistent Despite Changes Around Him
By Craig Gifford
If Cleveland Indians fans had it their way, Michael Brantley would be a superstar. As one of two key players – Matt LaPorta being the other – in the 2008 C.C. Sabathia trade, a lot has been expected of the young outfielder.
To this point, Brantley has not quite yet reached those lofty expectations that were perhaps unfairly placed upon him. However, at only 25 years of age and in his second full season as a starter, the center fielder is beginning to show signs of why the Tribe wanted him to be a part of that major deal.
With a base hit on Thursday, Brantley now has a hitting streak standing at 15 games. It is the longest streak for an Indians player this year and longest on the club since Brantley, himself, went 19 in a row in 2010.
The outfielder does not overpower the ball. He has just one home run in 52 games this year. It was seven in an injury-shortened 114 contests last year. In this current streak, in which Brantley has 20 hits, 15 of them are singles. He has two doubles, a triple and home run.
What Brantley brings to the table is the ability to the little things. He is likely to get his bat on the ball, suggested by a relatively low 21 strike outs in his first 222 at bats. If he is going to be an out, he is at least going to make the opposing fielders work to make him such.
Brantley also supplies speed to the line up. All of those singles could become doubles at a moment’s notice. The fourth-year pro has nine swipes this season. In a batting order that also features Jason Kipnis and Shin-Soo Choo, Brantley has helped to form a trio of base runners this season that give the other team’s pitchers fits with runners on the base paths.
That speed has served Brantley well in the outfield. He will get to balls that a lot outfielders can not. hits to the gaps that would be doubles, turn into outs. Brantley is not a player who will screw up the routine play, either. Playing mostly center field this season, he has committed just one error for a sterling .993 fielding percentage. For a career that has seen Brantley play all over the outfield, the fielding percentage is at .988.
The speed, defense and ability to get on base are why the Indians were so high on Brantley nearly four years ago. Sabathia was dealt in July that year with the infamous player to be named as part of the swap. Brantley was tabbed, after the season, to be that player.
Because of who he was traded for, fans hoped Brantley would step right in and be a major player at the big league level. As said before, it is a bit unfair. However, at the tender age of 21, Brantley had a strong season at the Double-A level. He batted .319, with 28 steals. In 2009, at Cleveland’s AAA-Columbus team, Brantely had some batting issues, hitting only .267.However, the speed was there. He amassed 46 steal that season and received a September call to the majors. He showed potential, batting .319 in that month.
Brantley couldn’t crack the Major League roster in 2010. A .319 average and 16 steals through the first 67 games, earned Brantley his call up that would last. He has not been back down to the minors.
Since mid-2010, Brantley has shown flashes of what he can do. He has had stretches, such as his current one, where he was a hitting machine. He has showed off the speed and the leather a little more often.
For Brantley to take the next step forward and be considered a truly key cog for the Tribe offense, he will need to be a little more consistent with the bat. He can certainly get there. Two long hitting streaks in three seasons is a testament to Brantley’s ability to be consistent threat. However, he is also prone to lulls.
Remember, Brantley is only 25. Because he made his Major League debut so young, it feels like he is a lot older, being on the radar of Cleveland fans for four seasons. A lot of players do not come into their own until their mid-20s. This is about the time Brantley should be figuring things out.
With a 15-game clip that has brought the batting average to a respectable .282, Brantley seems like he may be figuring things out and could be a fixture in the Tribe outfield for many years. With the lack of outfield depth in the organization, the Indians will need Brantley to provide consistent play for years to come.
It helps that Brantley can play anywhere in the outfield. He seems comfortable, too, batting anywhere in the order. When Cleveland signed Johnny Damon and brought him to the majors on May 1, Brantley was moved from the leadoff spot to seventh in the lineup. Rather than whine like some players, Brantley took the move in stride and that is actually when he hit his nitch. Brantley has been swinging a hot bat ever since. Add a solid head and team guy to the list of intangibles.
Brantley does the little things better than most on the team. He puts the team first. The Indians and their fans seem like they finally get rewarded for their patience with the young player, who he seems primed to be with the Tribe for years
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images