So I completely understand that the team wants to wait to start Michael Brantley’s arbitration clock and keep him locked down under his initial contract for a year longer. I understand that philosophy completely for all of its financial benefits. But the more time that passes, as we get closer to Opening Day, the more I want to tell the Indians front office to shut the hell up and start this man in Left Field.
Brantley turns 23 in May, so he does have youth on his side no matter what the Indians decide to do with him in the coming days. My hope is that he benefits from Russell Branyan’s injury as much as anyone can benefit from an injury to another player. I was as shocked as anyone when we signed Branyan, despite the pre-existing back injury, and the presence of Matt LaPorta and Andy Marte at 1st base. It seemed like the health of either Branyan or LaPorta would either give or cost Brantley major league playing time. It looks more and more like Branyan will not be ready for Opening Day, despite what Manny Acta is saying, and that LaPorta opens the season as the every day 1st baseman, with Michael Brantley batting 9th and playing Left Field. 9th, I only suggest this because Asdrubal Cabrera looks to be a good lead off hitter for the time being, and I would rather him be in that role if Brantley’s tenure to start the season is short, rather than shuffling the lineup around just for a few weeks while Branyan gets into shape.
Likely, upon the return of Russell Branyan, LaPorta will go back to Left Field and Brantley will head to Columbus to get everyday at bats. Lets take a look at what exactly makes Michael Brantley so awesome. Firstly, he is 22. He is the same age as I am and look where he is in life. He has a great combination of power, (not necessarily homerun power) great speed, defense, hitting for contact and smarts for the game. He has played 28 major league games, a very small sample size after Grady Sizemore’s season ended late last year, but what a great 28 games it was. 35 hits in 112 at bats, for a .313 average, which was combined with a .358 on base percentage and a .348 slugging percentage. The Indians want him to spend more time in AAA to get a better feel for the game at the plate, so that he brings up his OBP to more of the level you expect for a leadoff guy, in the .380 range. What we didn’t see him do much of in his 28 games, was hit for extra bases and steal. 31 of his 35 hits were singles, he recorded 4 doubles and 4 steals. Not a bad first showing at all. And what has he done all Spring Training that makes him even more awesome. Continue to rake. He has been batting leadoff and setting the stage for what is ranked as the best offense in Spring Training. That is not just opinion either, the Indians have scored more runs thus far in Spring Training than any other American League team, 128. The Indians also, fun fact here guys, have only allowed 83 runs, which is the 4th lowest of all teams. The team’s +45 run differential is the best out of all teams by 19, and Brantley is leading that offensive charge with his ability to get on base frequently.
Not only is Brantley a dangerous leadoff hitter, potentially a number 9 guy to start his career and be a 2nd leadoff guy a la Omar Vizquel all career long in Cleveland, he is a hell of a defender in Left Field. With him out there, the team’s defense gets that much more dynamic, he is a long way ahead of LaPorta defensively out there, much better than Austin Kearns and even better than Trevor Crowe who is a awesome defender as well. He offers the Indians a lot of flexibility if he makes the roster. Sizemore could potentially move in a few years to Left Field to trade spots with him to save his body from injuries and let the speedier Brantley take over CF duties. But outside of that, which we all know how good he is in the field and on the bases, lets look at his spring training stats. 29 at bats, so far, small amount I know, but that is all we have to work with. He is batting.345, 1 stolen base, 6 walks to 3 strike outs (which is where the team wanted him to improve) and 4 RBI. So basically what I am trying to get at, is that even if Russell Branyan comes back, I think the Indians need to play Brantley. LaPorta can play 1st base over Branyan, Brantley can start in left and let his bat mature with him at this level. I know he will get sent down when and if Branyan comes back, and the team will wait a while to bring him back because of the whole arbitration thing, but I think Brantley is ready for the Bigs. His eye for pitches and patience will only improve as his game does and he gets older and more mature. So he may as well get those reps at the big league level.
So there’s my point. Michael Brantley is awesome.
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