Each week through Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and break down the players in camp for the Indians at Goodyear, Arizona and examine their potential roles for the season to come. This week, we continue our Goodyear coverage by breaking down the players who need to have a break out season if the Tribe is to make the playoffs.
By Kevin Schneider
Before spring training started, and the Indians failed to land an outfielder, the club already needed Michael Brantley to pick up his production and start in left field.
But when Grady Sizemore’s back injury became known, Brantley’s importance grew. Now, manager Manny Acta likely will count on Brantley to patrol center field and bat leadoff to start the season.
So far, Brantley, 24, has responded with a solid spring. Through Tuesday, Brantley’s hitting .280 with 3 doubles, a triple, and 4 RBIs. He has no homers or stolen bases.
With Ezequiel Carrera already assigned to minor-league camp, Brantley’s leaving early from Monday’s game with a tight right hamstring becomes more concerning. If unproven Aaron Cunningham, out of options, makes the Tribe roster, he might back up Brantley in center, until Sizemore returns and Brantley likely moves back to left.
The context of Brantley’s arrival to the Tribe back in 2008 also adds to the outfielder’s importance. First baseman Matt LaPorta, 27, the centerpiece of the trade with Milwaukee that sent ace pitcher C.C. Sabathia to the Brewers, has failed to deliver the results – and reliable power numbers – the Indians expected. LaPorta should start 2012 back in Columbus.
So Brantley, the fleet-footed son of former Major Leaguer Mickey Brantley, must emerge as a major contributor this season to prevent the Sabathia deal from being deemed an utter failure for Cleveland.
A panel of baseball writers compiled by ESPN rated Brantley 406 on a list of the top 500 players in the game, according to an article posted Tuesday.
Last year, in 114 games, Brantley batted .266, up 20 points from 2010. He hit 7 HRs last year, up from 3 the previous year. He stroked 24 doubles, up from 9 in 2010. And he raked 46 RBIs, up from 22 in 2010.
As he learns better base-running skills, hopefully under the tutelage of Tribe Hall of Famer Kenny Lofton, the Indians brass expect Brantley’s speed numbers to go up. This season will mark Brantley’s fourth in Cleveland, making it easy to forget he won’t turn 25 until May 15.
If the Tribe’s offense expects to compete with the high-powered Tigers, Brantley must grow into the stardom the Indians hoped for when they made him the player to be named in the trade that powered the Brewers 2008 playoff run.
Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Be sure to vote for Did The Tribe Win Last Night in Cleveland Magazine’s Blog Bracket Challenge this week. Voting is open until 5 pm on Friday.