In this new series here at CST, we will be individually previewing each projected starting player on the 2015 Cleveland Indians’ team, culminating with a full team season preview in mid-March. Now batting: #23 Michael Brantley.
In case you missed them, previews already released can be found here:
2014 Stats: .327 BA, 20 HR, 97 RBI, 45 2B, 23 SB, 200 H.
Things could not have gone much better for Michael Brantley in 2014.
In the 27-year-old’s breakout campaign, he went for a slash line of .327/.385/.506, which led the team in each category. Additionally, Brantley was the club leader in runs, hits, doubles, RBI, stolen bases, OPS, total bases, and games played. It was safe to crown Dr. Smooth as the most valuable position player on the 2014 Tribe roster.
His recognition was not kept a secret, though, as Brantley punched his first ticket to the All Star Game in July, while also cleaning up in the awards season, winning a silver slugger award to go along with a 3rd place finish in the AL MVP voting.
On a team that faced a lot of ups, downs, injuries, and disappointments, Brantley was rock solid. He logged 156 games in total and was a consistent offensive force for nearly every one of those games.
Brantley is going through Spring Training knowing that he will be relied on as the #3 hitter in Terry Francona’s lineup, which is a change from any previous year. He opened the 2014 season batting 5th, with Jason Kipnis filling the 3-hole.
With this new role comes some new expectations, ones that he has never really faced before. Sure, Brantley has been called upon to be one of the key performers in the lineup the past few years, but he has never entered a season expected to be the guy.
Fortunately, it doesn’t seem like this will be much of a problem for Dr. Smooth, whose nickname reflects his cool, calm, collected and consistent approach at the plate.
Brantley is holding his own so far this spring, batting .273 with 2 RBI, a double and a stolen base.
2015 Projected Stats: .302 BA, 18 HR, 104 RBI, 21 SB,
I am not alone in predicting a slight regression from Brantley’s 2014 showing, but that does not mean he will put up a disappointing season. Batting .327 is hard, and I don’t expect Brantley to put up an average as high as that for a second consecutive year.
With that being said, Michael is much too good of a player to put up any bad numbers in 2015. Contact hitting has been his strength for years, and a tool like that just doesn’t disappear, especially at the prime age of 27. There are just simply too many refined elements to his game for us to expect a down year from him. He is a smart hitter that thrives on hitting to all areas of the field, doing so with an extremely low strikeout rate (4th in the MLB).
One worthy question to raise as Brantley gears up for the 2015 campaign is whether his power showing in 2014 is here to stay. Prior to his breakout 2014, he had never hit more than 10 home runs in a season. Compare that with 20 dingers in 2015. Brantley has always found success driving in runs, but it was rarely via the long ball.
Not that it should phase him very much, but the addition of Brandon Moss coupled with the hopeful return to form of Jason Kipnis and Nick Swisher should ease the pressure on Brantley to produce in the power department.
No matter if his power numbers sustain themselves, Brantley will be a part of a pretty formidable middle of the order with Carlos Santana, Moss, and Yan Gomes backing him up. If the leadoff two hitters, who project to be Michael Bourn followed by either Kipnis or Jose Ramirez, can consistently get on base, it will be hard not to knock those runs in.
By Jay Cannon
Featured image credit to: cleveland.morethanafan.net