Michael Brantley Debut Ignites Love For Speed and More Questions
When the Cleveland Indians re-acquired outfielder Kenny Lofton during their run to the ALCS in 2007, the city was buzzing about baseball louder than it had been in a long while.
You can say what you want about chicks digging the long ball and the summer of 1996 bringing the game back to the forefront of sports.
But speed thrills, and it excites the diehards.
Cleveland is an easy town to win over, but they're also a fanbase that is easy to alienate. Travis Hafner was beloved a few years ago. Now he's a bum-joke that needs to pay the Indians back every cent for getting hurt.
If you can steal a base, you likely won't lose that ability as a baseball player. Even if you aren't as fast as you used to be, if you have the base running awareness and knowledge of a Kenny Lofton or Grady Sizemore, you are always going to produce.
If you can put bat on ball and beat out numerous infield hits because of the speed you have, again, you will always produce.
Is it any wonder that Kenny Lofton stuck around as long as he did? In baseball, if you aren't producing, you aren't going to hang around the major leagues. Just ask the many players who've had short stints of absolute greatness and have then gone on to disappear into an absolute oblivion.
"Kenny, Kenny, Kenny!" was erupting from the crowd every time the center fielder stepped to the plate in the two playoff games I attended back in 2007.
You produce in Cleveland; you will not be forgotten or betrayed.
Kenny Lofton did that and he used his skill set effectively, even in his third stint, to win over the crowd. So don't be shocked if Michael Brantley's quick debut results in mass love from the Cleveland faithful.
And I'm in no way saying Brantley is going to be a reincarnated version of Lofton, he's the complete opposite in the clubhouse for one thing, but his skill set makes you believe he's going to be around for awhile.
Eric Wedge is already thinking of using Michael Brantley in the leadoff spot, especially if the club decides to have Grady Sizemore shutdown for elbow surgery.
For a fan base that hangs on every word Eric Wedge says, even in a lost season, that's like flaunting a bleeding limb in front of a pack of sharks.
Apologies for the angry visual, but I think the comparison is accurate.
Brantley has only played in one series, three games, but for the Cleveland fans, that's enough to want more. He's already used his speed in more ways than one to get on base, advance when on, and eventually score in a situation that some other players might not.
And if Brantley is as fast as the 46 steals in Triple-A Columbus indicate, he'll be burning up a trail behind him to add to that Cleveland fire.
More Brantley, more speed, more reason to put Sizemore in the three hole. Talk about opening Pandora’s box.
The mature-beyond-his-years Brantley sure does have the skills to succeed, make no mistake about it. Along with that mature attitude that he brings at the young age of 22, Brantley's also baseball mature.
The son of former major league Mickey Brantley, Michael has plate discipline beyond his years. With 258 career minor league walks compared to just 190 strikeouts, he's the ideal leadoff hitter.
He doesn't strike out, he waits for his pitch, he is willing to walk, and when he gets on he can turn a walk into a double or even a triple. Not only that, he's willing to do the small things like bunt and use his speed to get a hit.
And why wouldn't a youngster with those wheels be ashamed of getting the majority of his hits by just putting bat on ball and getting out of the box quickly?
I love speed. I've always been critical of the Indians for not having enough it. I love Travis Hafner, unlike some people, Ryan Garko, and all the other extra-base hitters.
But aside from Grady Sizemore, the past few years, the Indians have lacked someone with not just the speed, but the great base running repertoire.
Now all of a sudden, this is a team filled with talented base-runners who can not only advance things a little quicker, but also swipe a few bags in the process. Shin-Soo Choo's been caught just twice out of 20 attempts this year. Asdrubal Cabrera has flashed his wheels more often as well.
Throw a Michael Brantley into the mix and maybe Trevor Crowe as a fourth outfielder, there is some legit athleticism and base-running prowess on the team now.
Don't fear, because if things go as they are now, the Indians will still have the power of Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, hopefully Jhonny Peralta, and Matt LaPorta to balance things out.
Now Brantley's sudden emergence and good play, even if it's just three games, opens up a lot more discussion about roster moves with one month left in the season.
Jordan Brown is expected to join the team once the Columbus season is officially over. By that time, the Indians could decide to put Sizemore on the shelf in order to open up more at-bats.
It's still a bit of a log-jam though.
Matt LaPorta, Brantley's partner from the CC Sabathia trade, has established himself as someone who cannot sit on the bench anymore. Andy Marte, the other hot-hitting former Clipper, is doing special things at first base in the past few weeks. You can't possibly sit him either since a choice will have to be made about his future.
So unless Travis Hafner is shut down as well, which doesn't seem like a possibility given Hafner's health, there will be some serious shifting and movement among the day-to-day lineup.
Now Hafner might continue to get the day off at least once a week which will be beneficial, but that isn't a perfect solution.
So what's going to happen for the future and in the offseason?
Well that's a complex question, given all the decisions the Indians will face once October's final game is played.
There were expectations that Brantley wasn't going to get called-up immediately, and that was probably going to come to fruition had Crowe not gone down with an injury.
But now he's here and putting himself into the race for a roster spot next year, right from the get-go.
The offseason is where you make your deals though, especially if you hope to get your best return, at least when you are dealing young players.
Is Jordan Brown the odd man out?
Will the Indians decide to give Andy Marte a long-term shot with this sample size proving to be a success so far?
Is Jhonny Peralta someone you want to deal as an easy to move, cheap piece, in order to clear up at-bats for younger players?
Would Trevor Crowe net the Indians anything of value? And really, that is just the beginning of it all.
One thing is for sure. If this Michael Brantley is the one we can expect on a daily-basis as a major league player, he definitely needs to be a part of the Indians present and future because quite frankly, Brantley can play.
Maybe eventually, we'll be hearing chants of "Mikey, Mikey, Mikey!" erupt in Game Three of the ALCS.
The rabid Cleveland fans and I can only hope.
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