A throw-in to the deal that sent C.C. Sabathia to Milwaukee in 2008, Michael Brantley has made the All-Star Game for the first time in his career in his sixth season in Cleveland. What is most shocking about Brantley’s ascension to elite status is the combination of average and power he has shown at the plate.
With an already career-best 15 homers this season, along with 63 RBIs, Brantley has kept the Indians within shouting distance in the American League Central Division. The Tribe, 47-47 overall at the break, trail Detroit by 7.5 games and are 3.5 behind Los Angeles and Seattle in the Wild Card standings.
Brantley has also tied his batting average to .322 heading into the All-Star Game, good for sixth-best in the American League. His highest average in a season came in 2012 when he batted .288 in 149 games. There have been no sacrifices to his selective approach at the plate, as Brantley’s strikeout-to-walk ratio is nearly identical (32 Ks-to-30 BBs) and his eight sacrifice flies rank fifth overall in the AL.
However it is the increase in power that is perhaps the most pleasant surprise about the former 2005 seventh-round pick of the Brewers. With the hitting struggles of Carlos Santana and Nick Swisher well-chronicled, Brantley has been one of the more important players for the Tribe during the first half. However, he remains low-keyed about his success.
“I am just putting the bat on the ball,” Brantley said days prior to the All-Star break. “It is all about putting the barrel on the ball consistently. I am older, I am smarter and I work hard.”
With the added production often comes the expectation for more extra base hits and RBIs in crucial situations. While Brantley is quietly confident he will continue to do well, the approach that has led to his first All-Star Game will not be altered.
“I don’t think I ever try to ‘take my shots’,” Brantley said. “I’ve said it before; I am not a home run hitter. I put a good swing on the ball and whatever happens after that is out of my control. The key is to put good, consistent swings on the ball as much as possible.”
Not only has Brantley made his mark at the plate, but he also has taken charge in outfield—with a majority of his games coming in left this season prior to a move back to center. His 10 assists are tied with Jackie Bradley Jr. of the Boston Red Sox for second in the American League and he trails leader Yoenis Cespedes of the Oakland A’s by only one.
For Brantley, there are distinct differences in the two outfield positions. At the end of the day, the work ethic that is centered on the team—which has produced his individual success in 2014—is the only way he knows to approach his play in the field.
“It has definitely been an adjustment,” Brantley said. “In centerfield, you get to see the ball straight on. Some balls that are hit right at me, I kind of freeze, I have to read them a little bit. It is an adjustment period that I am going through but I am going to continue to work hard and I will do the best for my team.
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