Kluber, Brantley Have Followed Similar Paths to Success
Craig Gifford | On 15, Aug 2014
From obscurity to elite, Cleveland Indians stars Michael Brantley and Corey Kluber have ridden very similar paths to the amazing seasons they have enjoyed this summer. It is almost eerie how similar the Tribe’s offensive leader and pitching ace have gotten to this point in their careers.
It starts with neither player being particularly bally-hooed from Day 1. Brantley was a 2005, seventh-round draft selection by Milwaukee, while Kluber was selected in the fourth round of 2007 draft by San Diego. Both arrived in Cleveland via trades of former Opening Day starting pitchers. Neither Brantley nor Kluber were highly thought of when the transactions went down.
Brantley was the infamous player-to-be-named from the Brewers in the trade that sent C.C. Sabathia to Milwaukee in 2008. Brantley was thought to be a future Major Leaguer with some talent. However, the prize of the deal for the Indians was Matt Laporta.
Kluber, a relatively unknown prospect with the Padres went to the Tribe as part of a three-team deal that saw Jake Westbrook shipped off to the Cardinals in a 2010 trade deadline deal. There was hope he would eventually reach the majors, but nothing was a given.
Neither player lit things up at the minor league level. However, each did just enough to continue moving up the ladder and to get noticed by Tribe brass. Brantley made his Cleveland debut in 2009, but was not a regular in the lineup until 2011. Likewise, Kluber pitched his first game with the Indians in 2011, but was not regularly in the Major League rotation until 2013.
Both Brantley and Kluber got off to slow starts, until gradually proving themselves as guys who truly could contribute to a playoff-contending team in 2013. Neither guy was a star for last year’s Wild Card-qualifying squad, but both played key roles. Brantley had career highs with 10 home runs and 73 RBI to go with a .284 batting average that was just four points off his career-best .288 if 2012. Kluber’s 2013 saw him turn in a solid year and established himself as a trustworthy middle-of-the-order pitcher with an 11-5 record and 3.85 ERA.
Following good, but not great, 2013s, Brantley and Kluber were both considered key cogs to what would hopefully be another postseason push this year. The front office, so happy with Brantley’s continued growth, gave the 27-year-old outfielder an extension that will see him earn $19 million from 2015-2017 with an $11 million team option for 2018. Kluber, just a year older than Brantley, is under team control through the 2019 campaign. Chances are, the Indians could work out a long-term deal in the next couple offseasons with their new-found ace.
Perhaps most importantly in following very identical paths is that Brantley and Kluber have both busted out in a big way this season. The two are enjoying career years and are the reasons that the Indians are at .500 and still in postseason position despite injuries and down years from other key players.
Brantley earned his first All-Star nod this year and is currently hitting .325 with 17 bombs, 78 RBI and 13 steals. He has gone from solid contributor to one of the game’s 10 best outfielders.
Kluber is 13-6 with a 2.46 ERA. The 13 victories are already a career high. He was an All-Star snub and has been nearly unhittable since the Mid-Summer Classic. He has become Cleveland’s ace and would be even if Justin Masterson had not been traded a couple weeks ago. Kluber has gone from dependable starter to perhaps one of the top five hurlers in the game as of now.
Now, the hope is that Brantley and Kluber will continue following the same path and keep on the path of great play. To a degree the amazing success each has enjoyed this year came out of nowhere. Neither was a star before this season and neither was thought to ever become a star. Good to very good seemed to be the ceiling. Both have rocketed through that ceiling.
Unfortunately, when a player goes seemingly beyond the heights previously thought to be hit, he takes a step back eventually. See Lonnie Chisenhall‘s 2014 campaign as an example of that – great for three months and then reverted back to his former, non-hitting ways.
However, two things point to Brantley and Kluber being closer to the real deals than guys who will go back to being slightly above average after this season ends. One is that both have been great all year. Neither one had one of those aberration-type months early on that they are now clinging to on the way back down, a la Mark Reynolds of 2013. Brantley and Kluber have each been consistent. It is hard to be consistently good if you are an average player.
Secondly, both Brantley and Kluber have gotten better with each season. While the pair have come nowhere near their 2014 numbers in seasons past, each continued to post better stats and player bigger roles with every passing summer. That also indicates their seasons are more a continued upward trend than those of one-year wonders. Also and 27 and 28, Brantley and Kluber are both hitting that age in which a player proves whether he will be very good, good, average or something worse. In short, both are now entering their primes.
In Brantley and Kluber, the Indians now seem to have the cornerstones of their lineup and pitching staff for at least the next half decade. To think both came from such humble beginnings of being unwanted and under valued by other teams. Brantley and Kluber’s careers may be eeriely similar, but nothing scary for Tribe fans who have enjoyed watching them blossom into stars this year.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images