Cleveland Indians Preview 2012: Will This Be Michael Brantley's Breakout Year?

Jim Piascik@@JimPiascikCorrespondent IFebruary 23, 2012

2012 just may be Michael Brantley's breakout year.
2012 just may be Michael Brantley's breakout year.Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Despite being a relative disappointment to this point in his career, 2012 could very well see Michael Brantley come into his own as a major league outfielder.

For someone who looked like he was on the fast-track to becoming the next Kenny Lofton, Michael Brantley hasn't had the best start to his career. After being one type of hitter in the minor leagues, Brantley has often times looked like a completely different batter at the major league level.

Check out his splits:

Minors, averaged to 155 G: .303/.388/.377 slash line, .765 OPS, .361 wOBA (119 wRC+), 4 HR, 61 RBI, 44 SB, 102 R, 11.8 BB%, 8.8 K%, 4.3 Simple WAR

Majors, averaged to 155 G: .265/.316/.359 slash line, .675 OPS (88 OPS+), .301 wOBA (85 wRC+), 7 HR, 57 RBI, 19 SB, 80 R, 6.8 BB%, 14.1 K%, 0.2 fWAR

The outlook doesn't improve all that much according to Bill James' 2012 season projections:

Bill James Projection, averaged to 155 G: .268/.332/.358 slash line, .690 OPS, 309 wOBA, 7 HR, 56 RBI, 27 SB, 91 R, 8.6 BB%, 12.1 K%, 2.2 Simple WAR

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Obviously, no player maintains their exact minor league performance level when they move up to the majors, but in Brantley's case, I feel like his stats all changed too much. He went from someone who walked more than he struck out to striking out over twice as much as he walked. He's also seen his stolen base rate cut in half and his offensive production decline about 17 percent.

Even if Bill James projections come to pass and Brantley is an average player, I still think he's capable of more. With a few adjustments, this may become his breakout year.

The first step is to move him to center field. He hasn't rated positively there in his young big-league career, but he has a big fan in Keith Law. If Law, who is paid good money to be informed on these players, feels like Brantley deserves a shot in center, I'm willing to give it to him; his bat plays much better in center field anyway.

As for Grady Sizemore, I'd just move him to left field in this scenario. A less demanding defensive position just may keep him healthy. At this point in his career, Sizemore shouldn't be playing center field anyway. Luckily for the Tribe, they have a player like Brantley who just may be capable of handling the position. 

The other big thing Brantley needs to do is make adjustments to major league pitching. If he were to stop striking out as much as he's been and start drawing more walks again, his value would shoot up.

In the Bill James projections, adjusting his K% to 9.0% and his BB% to 9.5% takes him from a borderline starter (2.2 Simple WAR) to a surefire starter (2.8 Simple WAR). Plus, if Brantley's new-found power holds (10 HR instead of 7), he'd be all the way up to a 3.2 Simple WAR.

It may not be much, but if Brantley made it to the three-win player level, he'd be a solid major league player entering his age-25 season. Brantley is just now approaching his prime, so it's not outrageous to think he may pull off these adjustments and become a legitimate big-league center fielder.

Considering the poor return the rest of the CC Sabathia trade has yielded so far, the Indians' front office and their fans are certainly hoping this is Brantley's breakout season.

He's got the tools. Now, he just has to put them all together. 


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