In a perfect world, Cleveland Indians left fielder Michael Brantley is already 100 percent healthy and ready to help lead the the team to back-to-back World Series appearances. But this is Cleveland, nothing comes easy.
After missing the majority of the 2016 season due to a shoulder injury that he suffered in the latter stages of the 2015 season, the left fielder seems to (finally!) be progressing on his long road of recovery. Over the past few weeks, Brantley has been taking anywhere between 110 to 130 swings per day, advancing to soft toss and then overhand pitching in the cages last week. On Monday, he did something that he hasn’t done since early 2015: He had his first on-field batting practice session prior to the Indians third spring training game.
Here’s a short video from mlb.com’s Jordan Bastian of Brantley taking some swings:
Brantley takes BP on field for first time: pic.twitter.com/FweWlTt2fm
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) February 27, 2017
The 29-year-old was understandably excited, but knows that he must not start rushing things or else it will only go down hill. In fact, in batting practice, he didn’t even look where his batted balls went because he knew that would automatically make him excited and get his adrenaline going. Here’s what he had to say following the live BP, from Bastian.
“I didn’t look. I tried not to look,” Brantley said with a smile. “One thing that I can do is get too excited, and swing to hard, so I just wanted to stay under control today. …It’s great just to kind of go through a normal day. I got to do everything with the team today. Taking BP on the field, there’s always some butterflies, some first-time jitters, excitement to be back on the field with everybody. It all went well.”
Unlike 2016, when the club and Brantley himself tried to rush the All-Star back for Opening Day, which turned into even more damage to his already injured shoulder that caused him to miss the season opener and beyond, the Indians seem to be taking the cautious route with their star this time around. While many people across the organization can be blamed for him only playing 11 games last season due to trying to rush back and play through the injury, it seems as though they have learned their lesson and are being even more cautious than they should.
After taking in his first live on-field BP on Monday, the next most important step is seeing how he feels Tuesday morning. Will he be sore? Will he think he can do it all again sooner rather than later? If it’s the latter, that’s only good news for Brantley and the Indians. Although there’s no timetable for when he will actually return, so far, the outfielder’s shoulder has responded positively through each step of the rehab process, as general manager Mike Chernoff noted following Monday’s batting practice.
“He’s had a build-up through his entire rehab process and hit every check mark along the way. The next big hurdle for him is when he starts to see live pitching. He’s got to get through a couple more things first before he does that. The first day out on the field looked great, but that will be the big hurdle for him once he hits that.
“With everything that we lived through last year — the ups and the downs of that process. It’s really good to see just the consistency of how well he’s doing after every one of his sessions. So, his volume has really picked up in the batting cage and then obviously he got out here today, so everything’s been really positive.”
For what it’s worth, he’s ahead of where he at this point last spring, but then again, that doesn’t say much considering he came back too fast in 2016. With the Indians still having almost a full five weeks of Spring Training remaining, Brantley is in no rush to play in any games just yet, but the team knows that the true gauge of his rehab and return will come once the lefty is able to play in games. That, along with how he feels following the game, is what is most important.
Not to get too excited, but imagine if Brantley is able to return and be part of the Indians’ everyday lineup. In his last full season (in 2015), before his shoulder injury in the last week of the season, he had a .310/.379/.480 slash (.859 OPS), with 45 doubles, 15 home runs, 84 RBIs, and 15 stolen bases in 137 games and finished third in American League MVP voting. Adding Brantley’s bat an glove to the lineup would be like adding another All-Star in free agency to a team that was just one game away from winning it all in 2016.
Along with already having outfielders Tyler Naquin, Lonnie Chisenhall, Brandon Guyer, and Abe Almonte, along with up-and-comers such as Bradley Zimmer, Greg Allen, and Yandy Diaz, the Indians added some insurance for Brantley, in case he isn’t 100 percent until later in the season, if at all. During the off-season, the team signed both Austin Jackson and Wily Mo Pena to minor league contracts, giving them a shot at making the major league roster by the end of camp.