When former Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro dealt Cy-Young award winner C.C. Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008, most fans thought he was nuts. They felt the same way about the Cliff Lee deal too. But by now, those opinions have probably changed, at least for the Sabathia deal, thanks in no small part to the rise of outfielder Michael Brantley's aptitude.
Brantley, at the time, was not said to be one of baseball's top prospects; it was Matt LaPorta who was said to be the top prospect in that trade. But given the time to develop properly, Brantley has blossomed into one of the Indian's better hitters. And he is still getting better.
He is taking over in center field for former All-Star Grady Sizemore, who is on the Disabled List with a right knee contusion, yet the Indians as a team have not skipped a beat; neither in the field, nor at the plate. They are still fourth in the Majors in batting average, tied for fifth in home runs, and third in runs scored, trailing only the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds.
Brantley has developed a sharp batter's eye at the dish, and his hits are timely; he is batting .393 with two outs and runners on base. His flexibility to play all three outfield positions kept him in the lineup through his earlier obstacles, yet he has found his home in left, and that spot is his for the taking. Though Travis Hafner is batting implausibly well, a large part of the Tribe's success is due to Brantley, and the other half of the Sabathia trade; Matt Laporta.
LaPorta's batting average is still only sub par, but he gets hits that produce runs, and that is what is required of him. LaPorta specifically needed a good start to what hopefully will be a break out year for him. LaPorta is 26 years old, two years older than Brantley, and has almost 200 more at bats. That may not sound like much, but it really is at this point in their careers. The Tribe's first basemen, and his career .237 average will be placed under the microscope throughout the entire season as the team evaluates it future situation at first base. Luckily, LaPorta does not have a top prospect breathing down his neck in the minors, but such could be beneficial as an increased motivational factor.
Brantley was the first of the two to become a legitimate Major-League hitter when it was supposed to be LaPorta. This comes as a refreshing surprise, though it would be nice if things go as planned, for once. Don't worry, his job status in Cleveland isn't at stake, but his counterpart in one of the most important Indians' trades of the past 10 years or so is light years ahead of him. Brantley has been a pleasant revelation this season and is now a mainstay in left field. LaPorta should get there, but still has a ways to go.