Both stories are intertwined.
Michael Brantley is clearly the future in left field and as the leadoff man. Yet, despite a .313 September with the big club playing every day, the Indians seem content, no matter what happens, to send Brantley back to Columbus for more seasoning. Meanwhile, unless he isn’t ready due to his offseason hip and toe surgeries, Matt LaPorta is all but assured to be on the opening day roster as a starter.
Check out the quote from GM Mark Shapiro from yesterday:
“LaPorta’s a guy that, age-wise, profile-wise and experience-wise, is ready to compete at the big league level. Regardless of what adjustments he has to make, he has to be up here in order to get better.
Michael Brantley is a different story. He’s 22 years old, he had a solid but not special Triple-A season, and he had 100 good plate appearances up here, whatever that means. He does have an approach on the field that’s above his chronological age. That being said, there’s benefits to him being here and there’s benefits to him being finished in the Minor Leagues. We’re not going to make a decision off a Spring Training performance for anybody.”
Can you say “service time?” This decision reeks of wanting to make sure that the 22 year old Brantley stays under the team’s control as long as they possibly can. Despite the fact that Brantley is hitting .316 (6-19) this spring, his fate seems to be already decided. To his credit, he is taking it all in stride.
“Branyan or no Branyan, it did not matter,” he said. “I just wanted to compete and earn a job and just battle. I try to put up good at-bats, steal a few bases and show the overall aspects of my game.”
“At the end of camp, we’ll find out where I’m going. It’s up in the air. There’s nothing I can do except play on the field. I try not to worry about where I’m going or what people are saying.”
And speaking of Russell the Love Muscle, Anthony Castrovince portrayed the following picture of the Indians big offseason free agent acquisition:
He strolls into the complex around the time his teammates are heading out to stretch, and he’s coy — if not completely evasive — with the media regarding the status of his recovery from lower back problems. Branyan has a herniated disc in his back, and it has prevented him from setting foot on the field with his teammates for something so simple as a morning batting practice session. He told reporters the other day that he had stopped taking groundballs and swings and was hoping to play catch on Sunday. Not the best timetable to be on with three weeks left in camp, obviously. But the company line is that as long as Branyan can play the final week of games, he can be adequately prepared for the season.
I’ve long been on record as saying the Branyan signing was a huge mistake, but now it seems as though he is being treated like he is the second coming of Jim Thome. Guess what – he isn’t. He is still a windmill who happens to be coming off the best season of his mediocre at best career. However, that season ended with a month on the DL with the same bad back he is dealing with now.
I’m calling my shot – Branyan will start the season on the DL and the Indians still will have Brantley in AAA. Your starting left fielder will be Austin Kearns. That will be an extremely weak and cheap decision. LaPorta should be at first and Brantley should be in left. But that’s just one guy’s opinion.
photo via Cleveland.com