Has Michael Brantley Arrived?

Coming into the 2011 season, the Indians’ return on the CC Sabathia trade had been disappointingly small. Not only had centerpiece Matt LaPorta failed to make an impact at the major-league level, but Zach Jackson washed out early, Rob Bryson still toils in the minor leagues, and the second-biggest piece, Michael Brantley, had struggled mightily in his short time with the big club, compiling a .291 wOBA and -1.2 WAR in his first two seasons (100 games, 446 plate appearances) as a Cleveland Indian. As has been the way with seemingly everything in Cleveland in 2011, though, Brantley has turned it around. The 24-year-old center fielder carries a .349 wOBA into Monday’s action, and it appears that he may finally be here to stay at the MLB level.

Brantley never showed the profile of an elite MLB hitter at the minor-league level, but he did show promising signs, particularly for an athletic and quick center fielder. At every single level, Brantley showed tremendous plate discipline and contact skills: from Low-A with the Milwaukee Brewers system up to the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, Brantley walked more times than he struck out. Power was nonexistent — Brantley only hit 16 home runs from 2006 to 2010 in the minor leagues — but that kind of skillset can create a successful MLB player. Marco Scutaro and Yunel Escobar, for example, have managed to put together average (or slightly better) MLB numbers with a similar skillset.

Prior to 2011, Brantley’s contact skills were there — he only struck out in 12.8% of at-bats in 2010 — but the walk rate never materialized. This year, through 149 plate appearances, Brantley’s numbers are right in line with his minor league lines — 15 strikeouts and 15 walks. Brantley’s three home runs is a relative explosion, as double-digit home runs would be a shock for him. But it appears that Brantley has developed into the player the Indians coveted in 2008. In the absence of Grady Sizemore (yet again), the Indians will need a capable center fielder to hold on to the AL Central lead. After paying his dues in the Major Leagues for the past two seasons, Michael Brantley appears poised to be just that.

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11 Responses to “Has Michael Brantley Arrived?”

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  1. MF says:

    I just wish he would run wild like he did in the minors..

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  2. SFSUGatorAlum says:

    Drafted him in a 14 team 25 player league in the 24th round. Only 0.3 percent of people owned him then. 33% or so now. I feel pretty smart.

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  3. grandbranyan says:

    It’s a smallish sample spread out over parts of three seasons but so far Brantley looks more like a LF than a CF at this point, at least according to UZR.

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  4. Justin says:

    Another dinger for Brantley tonight. Two walks too.

    He may hit double digit homers this season.

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  5. kid says:

    You know it’s a slow offensive year when Michael Brantley and his career .274/.331/.358 line is getting ink. Please let this be the last article you write about him.

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  6. stratobill says:

    For some reason this article made me think of Kirby Puckett, who
    hit 0 homers in 557 at bats as a 24 year old rookie and followed
    that up with 4 homers in 691 at bats his second season. Going
    into his 3rd season (age 26), Pucket had hit just 1 homer for every
    312 at bats.

    Then he shocked everyone by hitting 31 homers in his 3rd season.

    Up to this point, Brantley has hit 8 homers in 624 at bats, which
    is 1 homer for every 78 at bats. That is exactly half as many at bats
    and twice as many homers as Puckett had through his first two seasons.
    And Brantley only turned 24 a few weeks ago, so he has displayed more
    power at an younger age than Puckett.

    I’m not saying Brantley will ever hit 31 homers like Puckett did, but
    based on his youth and his production so far, I can see him reaching
    20 homers in a season several times during his career. Throw in his
    speed, defense, batting eye, and ability to hit for average, and I think
    that makes Brantley a potential all-star.

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  7. bbboston says:

    Right now, I’d say Brantley has arrived, but has more to offer possibly. He is a guy that has a potential power spike in him. Entering his 27th year; coming two years off wrist surgery (something that seems to generally have been forgotten); finally comfortable in having a position and in his MLB preparation. Moreover, at some level it seems he’s being underutilized on the base paths. The speed is there to be 20+ steals, but the opportunity to date has not. He may be a guy who never gives you more than a pretty good BA. However, going forward, I can easily see him regularly having years with 12-17HRs, 20-25 steals and a .290+ BA. That to me is pretty darn attractive. Also, we can’t dismiss the fact that Cleveland seems to slot him all over the line-up with success and view him as a player who can deliver as a professional hitter, even without a big power profile. Accordingly, I view his “arrival” as his base value, with an expectation of more to come

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