Sunday, October 05, 2008

Lazy Sunday with Brantley

With the Brewers hanging on by a thread (anyone else interested to see CC’s performance if a Game 5 rolls around against Cole Hamels?) and the Cubs being swept by the DODGERS, it looks like a Browns-free afternoon at the Wigwam filled with playoff baseball.

But first, we’re off on a Lazy Sunday:
The big news of late, of course, is that the Indians selected Michael Brantley as the PTBNL in the CC deal (audio of Shapiro’s comments at the top of the linked article) in a process made interesting only by Paul Hoynes’ constant (and correct, it turns out) claim that the selection of the pick would be determined by whether the Brewers made the playoffs or not. Apparently, when the Brew Crew did, the decision became the Indians (because of a “gentleman’s agreement”) and it looked like Brantley was the more-highly-thought of prospect by most - yes, the camp of Taylor Green filling a greater organizational need existed – as Brantley’s numbers as a 21-year-old in AA were hard to ignore.

The big thing on Brantley is his OBP (.398 this year), his strike zone command (27 K to 50 BB in 420 AB!), and his success at AA at a young age as he doesn’t turn 22 until mid-May of 2009. Those that don’t like the selection point to the lack of power from Brantley and the fact that he likely profiles as a LF with numbers that don’t necessarily translate into what is generally expected by a corner OF, power-wise. Before getting into how he fits in the organization, let’s examine why that thinking has flaws as Brantley is still 21 and, knowing that power is the last thing to develop, he still has time to grow into his body and provide some pop. Certainly his numbers don’t jump out like Grady Sizemore’s do in terms of extra-base hits (Brantley had only 17 2B, 2 3B, and 4 HR as a 21-year-old in AA while Grady had 26 2B, 11 3B, and 13 HR as a 20-year-old in AA) in the minors, but I don’t think we’re expecting Brantley to be another 30-30 guy…we already have one in CF.

Which segues nicely to the point that the Indians CAN accept lower power numbers from their LF, because they get them from Grady in CF. If the ideal situation is a speedy, high OBP CF and a power-hitting LF, why can’t those roles be reversed if the power-hitting OF happens to play Gold Glove caliber CF? Even if Brantley puts up 10-15 HR with some doubles power (and not the 15-20 HR that Shapiro touted, which looks pretty optimistic), isn’t that what a “prototypical” leadoff hitter does?

So, he does fit on this team in the way that Trevor Crowe was SUPPOSED to about 1 ½ ago…except that Brantley put up similar numbers to Crowe in AA when he was about 3 ½ years younger than Crowe! If you dreamed about slotting Trevor Crowe at the top of the lineup and playing LF to complement Grady back in the days that Pete Gammons was calling Crowe “Ty Cobb”, just know that Brantley is a younger, higher-ceiling prospect who has outperformied Crowe despite the difference in age.

Who does Brantley remind scouts of?
According to Tony Lastoria, “his floor looks like that of a Randy Wynn, a middle of Juan Pierre (little less speed, but much better plate approach), and a ceiling of Kenny Lofton (his career to this point is virtually a mirror image to Lofton’s, and at three years younger).”

He looks to be a surefire ML player and a 4th OF at the very worst, with one scout even telling Lastoria that “he likes both LaPorta and Brantley a lot. When considering their ceiling potential, they mentioned that the Indians quite possibly may have very well got their 2000's version of Belle/Lofton in the trade.”

That may be getting ahead of ourselves a little bit (and let me wipe this drool off this keyboard from the Belle/Lofton comp), so let’s get back to Brantley’s greatest skill, his ability to put the bat on the ball and get on base. How good was he at that? In terms of comparing him to the whole Indians’ organization, here’s who had the same or a higher OBP than him this year, with their age and level listed:
Carlos Santana - C - .431 (age 22 at A & AA)
Chris Gimenez - C - .421 (age 25 at AA & AAA)
John Allman - OF - .427 (age 23 in Rookie League)
Richard Martinez - 1B - .408 (age 21 in A)
Dustin Realini - 1B - .407 (age 24 in A)
Todd Linden - OF - .398 (age 28 at AAA)
That’s it…those are the only players who posted better OBP than Brantley did this year in the Indians’ organization; and the only notable one (Santana) did so with most of the numbers coming when he was still on the Dodgers.

Are you starting to see why getting a high-OBP player is important to this organization? And further than that, if you’re looking at a lineup that figures to include Sizemore, Martinez, Peralta, Hafner (whichever one shows up), and Choo, another middle-of-the order hitter may not be as important as finding the table setters, and the Indians may have found one who figures to start the year in Columbus with Matt LaPorta - another potential middle-of-the-order hitter to add to the list above.

Finally on Brantley, knowing what the Buffalo OF looked like this year, it’s awfully nice to see the infusion of upper level hitting talent as LaPorta and Brantley will be in AAA (playing positions that are considered weakness on the parent club) and Carlos Santana figures to play for Akron along with the two best “homegrown” hitting prospects in Nick Weglarz and Beau Mills. Sure trading your reigning Cy Young Award winner and player with the best team beard is not the way that you think of when the season starts with such high expectations – but…lemonade out of lemons, I guess.

Back to the idea of the Indians’ adding a table setter and a high OBP player in Brantley, here’s the 2B and 3B in MLB listed by OBP with at least 450 plate appearances this year. The more I look at that 2B, the more underwhelmed I feel – and if Jhonny’s REALLY going to 3B (and the quote from Wedge that, “At some point, I do feel Jhonny is going to end up at third base and Asdrubal will be at shortstop” sure makes it sound like he is), who on the 2B list jumps out at you as a player that looks good?

Yes, I know Brian Roberts…but the Indians biggest trading chip (Shoppach) happens to play the same postion as the Orioles’ top prospect Matt Wieters, who also happens to be one of the top prospects in baseball. So unless you’re talking about the Orioles having an interest in some combination of Ryan Garko, a LHP, Wes Hodges, and Francisco/Gutierrez – it looks like the O’s aren’t looking like a match. Maybe the Orioles want a number of middling players with the idea that they can develop them into quality MLB players, but I just don’t see a logical exchange where the Orioles would be looking for something that the Indians would be willing to give up.

Beyond Roberts, I see Orlando Hudson (a FA) and maybe a Dan Uggla (who doesn’t fit the profile of the high-OBP and looks to be one of those all-or-nothing guys that we already have a few of which lead us to those boom-or-bust stretches as an offense) as possibilities.
Would the Braves be willing to part with Kelly Johnson? Not for Shoppach, says Brian McCann.
Is Rickie Weeks or Mark Ellis (also a FA) that appealing?
Is Robinson Cano salvageable after a HORRIBLE year?
All told, it looks like slim pickings at 2B with the possibilities for finding an impact 3B not looking much better.

Back to that exit interview with Wedge linked above in the Peralta to 3B comment (here’s another link), there was nothing really new came that out of it unless you count Wedge’s candidness about the likes of Dellucci, Garko, and Barfield or his omission of Sowers as a pitcher who factors into the rotation for next year. Again, the comments didn’t offer anything ground-breaking for people that follow that team – it was just more of a confirmation that what WE see as apparent is not limited to our eyes. The one thing that stood out as rose-colored was his optimism on Hafner being “better” than his 2007 form, as it looks pretty optimistic to me at this point.

Onto things related to the cursory “Season In Review” pieces that come flying at us from all directions this time of year (and, yes, I fell victim to the siren song of a “Recap” as well), I’m really not all that interested in reading things that I already know or have seen beaten to death. Nevertheless, Paul Hoynes has an interesting piece on what an opposing team’s scout thinks of some of the young Indians with question marks around them. All told, the scout sees the best move that the Indians can make is to keep Shoppach behind the plate, move Victor to 1B in regards to that conundrum, was unimpressed by Asdrubal’s defense and the feasibility of Choo and Francisco being everyday OF, sees Jensen Lewis as more of a set-up reliever, sees Laffey, Scott Lewis, Sowers, and Jackson as back-end of the rotation fodder, and sees Reyes’ health being the key to his perhaps contributing in the middle of the rotation.

Very good insight as it’s always interesting to know the perception that is out there regarding some of these youngsters that isn’t swayed by the “glass half-full” or “glass half-empty” crowds that watch them everyday.

Pat McManamon sheds some light on this drastically overblown Luis Isaac firing, saying that, “Isaac, though, said General Manager Mark Shapiro offered him another job. Isaac said no; he wanted to search for a coaching job. ‘I've been in this game so long,’ Isaac said. ‘I think I know baseball and I can make people be good because of my knowledge. It's not that Luis Isaac is better than everybody. It's just my experience.’ If he can't find a coaching job, he might rethink the Indians’ offer.”

I know that this Isaac thing is a hot-button issue (thanks for waking up long enough to type some nonsense, Livy!), and many see it as a power trip for Wedge and a classless way for the Indians to dismiss Isaac. The way the story was originally presented, one can certainly see how that presumption came about. But if the Indians did offer Isaac another job after they made the decision that they needed a new voice in the bullpen (and AAA pitching coach Scott Radinsky, who has been credited with righting the ship for players like Jensen Lewis and developing some of these young arms – like Jeff Stevens – that have caused some excitement, would look to be the leader in the clubhouse), I don’t get the outrage.

Elsewhere on this Lazy of Lazys, Anthony Castrovince has the story of the life-altering things that have happened to Matt LaPorta since joining the organization. The Futures Game, the death of his grandfather, The Olympics, and now his mother being diagnosed with MS…yeah, his plate has been pretty full. Now he gets to go to Venezuela to play baseball – unbelievable.

Finally, it seems that Tony Lastoria was able to secure an interview with Michael Brantley’s agent, Josh Kushick, who will call into “Smoke Signals” – the weekly Internet radio show that Tony and I do – this Thursday. The show runs from 9:30 to 10:30 and here’s the link, but if you’d like any specific questions asked, don’t hesitate to e-mail me or post them in the comments section.

For now, it’s time to go out and stock the fridge with High Life and get some Johnsonville brats because there’s baseball to be played in Milwaukee and (given my marital association with the Cream City) it’s time to cheer on those Brewers!


The A.G.B said...

EXCELLENT analysis of Michael Brantley and where he fits in. I would have been excited to have received an infield prospect but this kid's season was just too good to ignore.

Spoons Fiddlesticks said...

"[I]t’s awfully nice to see the infusion of upper level hitting talent as LaPorta and Brantley will be in AAA (playing positions that are considered weakness on the parent club)[...]"

Can I infer from this that you think LaPorta will move (back) to first base in Columbus? From a defensive standpoint, I guess the acquisition of a stud LF prospect like Brantley does put The Door in a jam(b). (Try the chicken, and please tip your waiter. Good night!)

Paul Cousineau said...

I think that LaPorta will slide between LF and 1B next year in Columbus to start out and fill the bigger need as it emerges in Cleveland.

That is, if Garko struggles out of the gate, LaPorta will have played 1/2 his time at 1B and can slot there. Or if Francisco struggles in LF (or whoever is playing LF), LaPorta can do the same in LF.

I would think that Brantley would split time at LF and CF, if only to accomodate LaPorta's ability to get some reps in LF.

Thus, it would break down with LaPorta in LF and Brantley in CF or LaPorta at 1B and Brantley in least to start out in Columbus to see what happens in Cleveland.

Long answer, but yes...if Brantley translates as the LF, my inference is that LaPorta eventually ends up back at 1B.

By the way, I just heard from Tony that MICHAEL BRANTLEY will join us on the radio show for a segment, in addition to his agent.
So be sure to tune in or at least listen to the podcast.

Norm Szcyrek said...

Great article!

However, I was surprised that you did not include Nicholas Weglarz in your OBP comparison of Tribe prospects. Nick managed a .399 OBP at A+ ball as a 20 year old in 2008. He also projects to become a power hitting outfielder.

Paul Cousineau said...

Thanks Norm.
I would have LOVED to have included Nick the Stick, but Baseball Reference listed his season OBP at .396.
Close, but no cigar.

Regardless of a few percentage points, you won't find many people outside of Ontario who are bigger fans than Wegz than me.

His numbers, at his age, are the same reason I'm excited about Brantley as both have excelled at young ages playing against older players. Thinking about Weglarz, as a 21-year-old in Akron next year has me thinking "power hitting outfielder" for sure.