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02/26/09 7:00 PM EST
Brantley gets dad's big league advice
Father's coaching helps Tribe prospect progress quickly
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Michael Brantley had just finished taking batting practice in front of one hitting coach at the Indians' Player Development Complex on Thursday morning when he found another waiting for him behind the backstop of Field No. 1. It just so happens the second coach doubles as his dad.
Former Major League outfielder and hitting coach Mickey Brantley observed his son's rounds of BP and could tell he was having some trouble driving the ball to the opposite field.
"His front shoulder was leaving," the elder Brantley said. "He needs to keep his front shoulder in. It's pulling off a little bit."
No one knows Michael's swing better than Mickey, but the Indians are quickly learning what a special swing it is and what an excellent player and person they have in Brantley.
Rare is the trade in which the player to be named turns out to be the best player acquired by a club, but that is altogether possible in Brantley's case. He was the last piece hauled in from last summer's CC Sabathia trade with the Brewers, but his potential in the power, on-base, defense and baserunning departments and his general maturity bode well for his big league future.
Oh, and this might be a good time to mention that Brantley is only 21 years old.
The Indians talked to the Brewers about Brantley, who was at Double-A Huntsville last year, throughout the process of working out the CC deal, in which they also netted highly regarded outfield prospect Matt LaPorta. Hesitant to part with Brantley, the Brewers finally agreed to do so only on the condition that they reach the postseason. Otherwise, the player to be named would have been Taylor Green -- a Class A third baseman the Indians valued, but not nearly as high as they pegged Brantley, who can play all three outfield spots and first base.
As it became common knowledge that the player to be named would be either Brantley or Green, neither player was in an ideal position. Grinding your way through a Minor League season is difficult enough without worrying whether you might be changing organizations at season's end.
"There were a lot of rumors going around," Brantley said. "Players were coming up to me and saying, 'You're gone.' I would say, 'I don't know anything yet. When I know, you'll know.'"
The uncertainty didn't seem to affect Brantley on the field. An ankle injury kept him out of action for all but four games in July. But, for the season, he posted a .319 batting average and a .395 on-base percentage, drawing 50 walks against just 27 strikeouts. He stole 28 bases in 36 attempts.
If you only read Brantley's stats, you might think he's a scrawny speedster. In fact, he's a 6-foot-2, 205-pound athlete, well-built with graceful movements. Yes, he might profile as a leadoff hitter at the moment -- and that's the position he's batted in throughout his Minor League career. But as he develops further, he has serious power potential.
That's something his dad discusses with him all the time.
"You put him at 215-220 pounds, with another 10-15 pounds of muscle on him, and he's going to drive some balls out of the ballpark," Mickey Brantley said. "That will come. I want him to stay with what he's doing right now. He's in a BP group with some big boppers, but I tell him, 'You can't worry about what they're doing.'"
Brantley, ticketed for Triple-A Columbus, always appreciates that kind of advice. When he's struggling, he leans on his father, who played for the Mariners from 1986-89, served as a coach for the Blue Jays from 2005-07 and now gives hitting lessons to kids in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
"It's just a great teaching tool," Brantley said. "It's always a pleasure when you can call your own father for hitting advice or baseball advice or just life advice. It's a really helpful situation that I'm in."
Brantley also likes his situation with his new team. With Grady Sizemore leaving for the World Baseball Classic over the weekend and Shin-Soo Choo already gone, plenty of innings should open up for Brantley to show the big league coaching staff what he's capable of.
"I could not be happier with where I am," he said. "Getting the opportunity to go out there every day is a blessing."
It's also a learning experience. Mickey, 47, laughed when talking about his son's first Cactus League game on Wednesday. Late in the game, Michael took a called strike off the plate and glared at the umpire, who pointed at the clock on the left-field scoreboard.
"[Michael] had to understand there is such a thing as speeding up the game," Mickey said with a smile. "That umpire had somewhere to be!"
On the whole, though, time appears to be on Brantley's side. He has advanced at a young age because of the maturity he gained growing up around the professional game.
"He's a good kid," Mickey said. "He's a very smart kid, too. He graduated with high honors from high school, and he really studies this game. Sometimes he's a little bit hard on himself, but I take that quality as him being willing to work hard to get better."
And Brantley goes about that work with an extra coach in his corner.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.