New Leadoff Hitter for the Tribe?

Chris KreitzerSenior Analyst IJanuary 25, 2009

Don't be surprised to see the first player paying dividends received in the CC Sabathia trade for the Indians in 2009 isn't USA Baseball Olympian Matt Laporta.
With Pitchers and Catchers reporting to spring training in less than three weeks and WTAM replaying the Carmona/Sheffield brawl game today, my anticipation for another Indian summer is growing by the day.
It lead me to ponder one name that seemed to keep popping up during the past weeks' Winter Press tour and if we could see him roaming the area preceding the Toyota Home Run porch at Progressive Field; Tribe farmhand Outfielder Michael Brantley.
Here are some thoughts around the web about this intriguing 21 year old prospect...



There is a chance—albeit a slim one—that Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, or Trevor Crowe could win a big-league job out of camp. Again, though it's slim, given that the Indians prefer to have those guys getting everyday at-bats in Triple-A, but it's become quite clear that David Dellucci is on a short leash this season.
It also doesn't appear likely the Indians will carry five outfielders at the outset of the season.
Brantley is as mature a 21-year-old as you'll ever meet.

... I don’t know about you, but the 21-year-old version of myself was not the most impressive or mature person that you would meet and Brantley’s poise at a young age, not to mention the fact that he doesn’t turn 22 until May and figures to start the season in AAA, speaks to a self-confidence (not a cockiness) that the special players often exhibit.

... His stature and the fact that he’s still a 21-year-old growing into his body give some validity to Brantley’s comments during our interview a few months ago that scouts had told him that a comp for him was Garrett Anderson…which, at the time, I scoffed at.
Certainly appearances are just that, but the on-base skills have always been there for Brantley (.399 career minor-league OBP) and he walked twice as much as he struck out last year in AA Huntsville, so it will be interesting to see if his power grows as his body matures and he moves himself further up the ladder.

Obviously, Brantley’s ability to hit for extra-base hits in AAA will go a long way to determining where he projects to be as a hitter, but know that Garrett Anderson had 42 extra-base hits as a 21-year-old in AAA in 1993 before becoming a fixture in the Angels’ lineup for the next 13 years, so if Brantley shows an ability to drive the ball in Columbus (now that he’s completely healthy and not hampered by the ankle injury that robbed him of some power in the 2nd half of 2008), it could portend good things for the PTBNL in the CC deal.

I had a chance to talk to a lot of the guys I had talked to over the course of the season, and was able to finally for the first time talk to Brantley in person. He is only 21 and will be the first month or two of the Triple-A season this year, and is already 6'2" 200 pounds and strong. Good kid, and extremely mature.
He often gets knocked because of a lack of power, but I believe it will start to show some this year with more doubles and triples. He's going to be special.

Brantley is the son of former Seattle Mariner Outfielder Mickey Brantley and possesses the potential skills the Tribe has been lacking since the departure of the first and second tour of duties of one Kenny Lofton; speed and on base ability.
Although Manager Eric Wedge will continually harp on the idea of Grady Sizemore's love for the top spot in the order, the organization has to realize how much stronger the big league club's lineup would be offensively with Grady batting third.
Let's illustrate this idea as if Brantley was ready to step into left field in 2009, a position he may be patrolling in Cleveland by mid season.

1. Brantley LF

2. DeRosa 3B

3. Sizemore CF

4. Martinez C

5. Hafmer DH

6. Peralta SS

7. Choo RF

8. Garko 1B

9. Cabrera 2B

Let's say Cliff Lee is pitching, or a tough lefty is on the mound, or Hafner needs a day off. The lineup could look like this...

1. Brantley LF

2. DeRosa 3B

3. Sizemore CF

4. Martinez 1B

5. Peralta SS

6. Garko DH

7. Shoppach C

8. Francisco RF

9. Cabrera 2B

The first lineup features Garko batting eighth, which would immediately rank amongst the American League's best. And the second group is not too shabby at all, realizing Pronk is going to need more days off this year then in years past. Sizemore in the three hole would increase the explosiveness of the daily one through nine and allow him more opportunities to drive in runs.
With David Dellucci apparently on a short leash according to Castrovince, the Indians won't hesitate to shake up the outfield in 2009. Also, Shin Soo Choo destroyed right handed pitching last year and may need a platoon mate, and who better than Ben Francisco to be that guy.
Ben has demonstrated his ability to hit at the major league level somewhat, but he probably is more suited to be a 4th outfielder rather than an everyday guy. Obviously these scenarios are contingent on Brantley making an adjustment to Triple A Columbus, but his track record seems to point towards a smooth transition.
Here is some more analysis from Tony Lastoria over at Indians Prospects Insider...

At only 21 years of age, Brantley has raced up the prospect rankings and climbed the minor league ladder quickly to where he just finished his second season - his first full season - at Double-A Huntsville where he hit .319 with 4 HR, 40 RBI, 28 stolen bases, and a .793 OPS in 106 games.
When he opens next season in Triple-A Columbus, he won't turn 22 until mid-May, almost two months into the season. Brantley was in line to be a sure-fire Brewers top ten rated prospect going into next year, and in a much stronger and deeper Indians system is a borderline top ten guy.

...At 21 years of age, Brantley has displayed an elite level approach at the plate striking out just 27 times in 420 at bats this past season, and ranked second in the entire minor leagues with a strikeout per plate appearance ratio of 17.7 (27 K in 479 PA).
In his four year minor league career, Brantley has struck out just 142 times in 1633 total plate appearances (11.5 AB/K). While he has only drawn 199 walks in his career, he has an extraordinary ability to consistently put the bat on the ball

His power numbers don't jump off the page, but reports say that he has bulked up to around 200 pounds. Supported by his 6'3 frame, one would deduce that his OPS will rise as he gets older. I remember another prospect the Tribe got from the Expos who didn't have much power in the minors either (Grady Sizemore anyone?).
With the luxury of having Sizemore and his 33 home runs patrolling center, Brantley would not be heavily relied upon for power anyways, just setting the table.
With Brantley being invited to Spring Training with the big club this spring, Wedge and Co. will be keeping a close eye on his development and production in Cactus League action.
I imagine they will closely evaluate his defensive progression as well as his eye at the plate. He will be probably be compared and contrasted with fellow Columbus Clipper Trevor Crowe, but if Chris Antonetti is comparing Crowe to Coco Crisp (low OBP guy), I imagine Brantley is currently the more thought of prospect.
If Mike can get on base, cover some ground, and rip it up early in Clipperville, the Sabathia trade may have garnered the Indians leadoff hitter of the Present.

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