Prospect Report: Michael Brantley

Jimmy HascupCorrespondent ISeptember 9, 2009

GOODYEAR, AZ - FEBRUARY 21:  Michael Brantley of the Cleveland Indians poses during photo day at the Indians spring training complex on February 21, 2009 in Goodyear, Arizona. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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This is the time of the year when many fantasy baseball owners decide to pack it in and fully shift gears for football season, which is quickly approaching. If you’re in a keeper league, or a competitive yearly one, then it would behoove you to continue to monitor the goings on around baseball.

If you have a slim chance of catching up in a category, then every little move counts, doesn’t it? Still, if you don’t fit those descriptions, then consider the rest of the season valuable research time for next year. Now is a great time to catch a sneak peak at a prospect who is getting a look by a big league club, or gain some insight as to potential sleepers for next year’s fantasy baseball season.

Often times players get their chances because of injuries. While nobody wishes an injury upon a player, it’s a prime time for that under the radar player to emerge or that young prospect to show that he can handle the big leagues.

With Grady Sizemore’s season done because of a sore left elbow, it’s time for Cleveland Indians prospect Michael Brantley to show what he’s made of at the big league level.

Acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers in the CC Sabathia trade, Brantley is already starting off his major league career on the right foot.

In the six games (23 AB) he’s played since being recalled by the Indians when rosters expanded, Brantley is 9-for-23 (.391 AVG), with 0 HR, 2 RBI, 4 R, and 1 SB. He has hit in every game he’s played in. Even though this is such a small sample size, it actually represents, on a small scale, what Brantley’s game is all about.

Let’s take a look:

In the minor leagues this season, Brantley batted .267 with 6 HR, 37 RBI, 80 R, and 46 SB. He wasn’t exactly having the most marvelous of seasons, but it does show you that the Indians felt he was about ready to give the major leagues a try.

In total, Brantley has played 499 (1849 AB) games at the minor league level, with a combined 12 HR,194 RBI, 150 SB, and a .300 AVG. He’s also accumulated a .387 OBP, even with a career-low of .350 this season.

The point of this prospect analysis isn’t to show you the next stud outfielder, but rather point out someone who has the ability to impact fantasy rosters now and later. At this point in the season there aren’t going to be many prospects reliable enough to contribute (and start) on a fantasy roster. It’s a little late to be banking your season on a player who hasn’t had an at-bat at the major league level.

Brantley is a very interesting case, though. He has the tool-set to make a mark in the major leagues right away. Since most of his game relies on his speed and good contact ability, he can help fantasy teams right away. He doesn’t strikeout all that much, with a cumulative mark of about 11 percent in the minors.

He doesn’t walk a ton for a leadoff type guy (12 percent in the minors) but due to the fact that Brantley doesn’t give away at-bats by striking out, he has valuable assets that are ready to translate to major league level. If you’re hesitant to take a chance on Brantley because it seems as if he took a step back this year, realize his BABIP was just .288, a career-worst.

By no means is Brantley a glamorous prospect. He’s not going to be the next game-changer, but I also don’t think he’s going to be a complete bust either. Baseball America tabbed Brantley as the Indians’ ninth best prospect in a minor league system that is almost devoid of blue-chip talent.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus graded Brantley a three-star prospect and ranked him the Indians’ 11th best.

“Brantley brings plenty of tools to the game,” says Goldstein. “He has a fantastic approach at the plate, rarely swings at bad pitches and slaps balls all over the field. He’s a well above-average runner and an excellent basestealer.”

Still, even with those accolades Goldstein is left craving more out of Brantley’s game because of his size (6'2", 195 lbs). Twelve home runs just don’t cut it for Brantley, especially when he “shows the ability to drive balls in batting practice,” according to Goldstein.

Currently, Brantley is batting leadoff for the Indians and he’s not being asked to carry the team, so he doesn’t have the pressure many young prospects encounter. His chance to earn a spot on next year’s team is now, but I’d like to send out this word of caution. Where exactly will Brantley play next year for the Indians, assuming he shows he can handle big league pitching?

Shin-Soo Choo is in RF, Grady Sizemore should be back in CF and Matt LaPorta is manning RF. Even though Brantley has played 313 games in the outfield, he’s played 53 at first base, according to Baseball Cube. Obviously he’s shown more promise in center field than at first base, but stranger things have happened.

Ultimately I think he’ll be a fourth outfielder next season, but I do see him having considerable value this year, so for those fantasy leaguers looking for a stolen base infusion, Brantley is definitely your guy.

What do you guys think? Will Brantley get a shot at starting next season?