Hot Prospect Corner: Michael Brantley

Matt LaPorta was the big name acquired by the Indians in the CC Sabathia trade with Milwaukee.  However, it is the “player to be named later” that may end up providing just as much impact as LaPorta.

Michael Brantley was the final player selected by the Indians to complete the return package for Sabathia.  At the time, he was 21-years-old and finishing up his first full season at double-A where he hit .319/.395/.398 over 420 at bats with 28 stolen bases in 36 attempts.  In 2009, Brantley’s AVG would fall, but his stolen base total would skyrocket.  In 528 triple-A plate appearances Brantley stole 46 bases in 51 attempts, good for a 90 percent success rate. 

Brantley’s plate approach is advanced for his age and his .267 AVG at triple-A last year can be looked at as somewhat unlucky as his BABIP was .288, very low for any minor league level.  Below are a few scouting notes to pass along.  The first is from a article in which Paul Hoynes asked Indians director of player development Ross Atkins about Brantley’s game.
  • Comment from Ross Atkins, Indians director of player development: “He has a very smooth, natural swing.. A swing you take one look at and say, “Don’t change a thing.’ He has good bat-to-ball (makes a lot of contact) and rarely strikes out. He’s an above average base runner and defender at a premium position.”
  • Scouting report: He has a very good approach at the plate and a good knowledge of the strike zone. He’s young and will get stronger as he grows into his body. He’s a top-of-the-order type hitter who can get on base and run. He has some raw power, but his game is to stay in the middle of the field and get on base.

In 2008, the year of the Sabathia trade, Baseball America did not rank Brantley in their top ten Brewers prospects, but did note that he had the best plate discipline in the Brewers minor league system. 

Then in 2009, Brantley’s first season in the Indians organization, Baseball America ranked him ninth on their top ten Indians prospect list.  They also ranked Brantley as the best hitter for average in the system as well as the system’s best athlete. 

For 2010 Brantley has made yet another leap as he was ranked as the fifth best Indians prospect by Baseball America as well as retaining his best average and best athlete titles. 

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus ranks Brantley tenth for 2010, but does note that his future could very well be a leadoff hitter capable of a .370 OBP and 40 steals per season. 

For fantasy baseball purposes, Brantley’s speed is the key to his value because he won’t hit for much power.  As stated above, his plate discipline is top-notch.  Over the past two seasons Brantley has walked more than he has struck out.  His 121 plate appearances with the Indians last season were too small of a sample size to draw conclusions from, but he did show that he doesn’t swing at many bad pitches (only 15 percent of swings on pitches outside the strike-zone) and he makes great contact (91 percent contact rate). 

While Brantley profiles better as a center fielder, Grady Sizemore is locked in there.  For now that means that Brantley will have to win the left field job.  Interestingly Brantley is ranked as the number one left fielder on the Indians depth chart, having moved Matt LaPorta to first base, his more natural position. 

If Brantley breaks camp with the big club this season, he could provide great value with the potential for 30-plus steals.  Given his unknown status, regardless of what the depth chart says, Brantley is more of an AL-only draftee right now.  However, mixed leagues need to keep Brantley on their radars at all times.  Once he claims a Major League starting job, he will be a guy to add immediately.