Jul 8, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall (8) and center fielder Michael Brantley (23) celebrate Brantley

Michael Brantley's Unpredictable All-Star Emergence

No One Could Have Forecasted Michael Brantley’s Rise

On October 3, 2008, a little known prospect made his way from Milwaukee to Cleveland. As the player to be named later in the trade that saw C.C. Sabathia head to the Brewers in exchange for power hitting prospect Matt LaPorta, this player was believed by many to be just a throw in – a speedy young outfielder picked from a list of available prospects in order to finalize what would be eventually prove to be one of the most demoralizing trades in the history of the Cleveland Indians.

Sabathia went on to lead the Brewers into the playoffs before finally making his way to the New York Yankees on a massive pay-day. Meanwhile, LaPorta languished in his own personal quad A hell. Over the course of four years, he routinely disappointed while failing to live up to the expectations placed on him as the centerpiece of a deal involving a perennial Cy Young winner and possible hall of famer.

All the while, the unheralded player to be named later quietly went about his business and firmly established himself over the last six years. First, as a serviceable major league player and then a franchise centerpiece. Now you can add all-star to the list of accolades.

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Jun 16, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians left fielder Michael Brantley (23) stands in the outfield in the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

If you hadn’t already figured it out, the player in question is none other than “Dr. Smooth” himself, Michael Brantley.

Brantley’s emergence has been something of an oddity. How many players to be named later come to mind that eventually went on to become all-stars? It’s not the typical career arc for a player thrown in on the back-end of a blockbuster deal. But with the Indians and Brantley, this is a testament to seeing talent, even at the earliest stages of a career, and having the patience to allow that talent to develop at its own pace over time. Now the Indians are being handsomely rewarded for that patience.

Originally, Brantley was pegged as the lead off hitter of the future thanks to his combination of speed and plate discipline. However, after struggling to make his mark at the top of the order he eventually settled in the bottom third where he began to develop a knack for timely hitting. A move from center to left also helped better utilize his skills. Rather than focusing on speed and manning a difficult position, he was allowed the freedom to develop a more well-rounded offensive game at a less stressful spot in the outfield.

The biggest progression was made during the 2013 season. With the new-found freedom allowed to him by new manager Terry Francona, Brantley blossomed, posting career best marks in nearly every offensive category. Even more importantly, he made it apparent just how valuable he could be to the Indians as they moved into a new era of contention. In 2013, Brantley hit everywhere in the lineup, emerged as one of the best clutch hitters in all of baseball (for what that’s worth), and opened the debate of just how good could he become?

Well, in 2014 “Dr. Smooth” has taken his game to a whole new level, pulling together every aspect of his game and firmly establishing himself as one of, if not the most underrated player in all of baseball.

His stat line in 2014 is leaps and bounds ahead of anything he had done previously. He is on pace to set new career best marks in every offensive category and through half a season has already surpassed his best single season home run total. For his efforts, Brantley has been rewarded with his first all-star selection and will be the Indians lone representative next week in Minneapolis. That is unless Corey Kluber wins the AL Final Vote.

Year Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2009 22 28 121 112 10 35 4 0 0 11 4 8 19 .313 .358 .348 .707 92
2010 23 72 325 297 38 73 9 3 3 22 10 22 38 .246 .296 .327 .623 75
2011 24 114 496 451 63 120 24 4 7 46 13 34 76 .266 .318 .384 .702 97
2012 25 149 609 552 63 159 37 4 6 60 12 53 56 .288 .348 .402 .750 112
2013 26 151 611 556 66 158 26 3 10 73 17 40 67 .284 .332 .396 .728 106
2014 ★ 27 84 362 325 58 105 20 1 13 57 10 29 30 .323 .387 .511 .898 154
6 Yrs 598 2524 2293 298 650 120 15 39 269 66 186 286 .283 .338 .400 .738 108
162 Game Avg. 162 684 621 81 176 33 4 11 73 18 50 77 .283 .338 .400 .738 108
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/8/2014.

But just how good can Michael Brantley become? Isn’t that the $25-million question? Or in other words, the value of the four-year extension he recently signed that will keep him with the Indians for at least the next four seasons. With each and every game that extension looks more and more like a steal. At the age of 27, Brantley is just now entering into his prime, meaning that at this rate, we should continue to see monumental improvements in his performance in the seasons to come.

Could Michael Brantley eventually evolve into a 25 home run and 100 RBI hitter? That might happen as early as this season. If it does, then what, 30 homers and 125 RBI? Could he go from all-star to MVP candidate? The possibilities are endless, barring injuries.

It’s crazy to think that these are the types of conversations fans of the Cleveland Indians are having about a player that was at one time considered anything but the centerpiece of a franchise. But, thanks to his tireless work ethic and dedication to getting better, Michael Brantley has made the C.C. Sabathia trade look like a win for the Indians. Who would have thought all these years later that we’d look back and say that the Indians got the better end of the deal?

Thanks to Michael Brantley, we can all feel a little bit more confident in where this team is headed and knowing that left field is good for the next four to five years. Not bad for a player to be named later.

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Tags: C. C. Sabathia Cleveland Indians Matt LaPorta Michael Brantley

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