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Should we be excited about Michael Brantley’s first on-field BP session?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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:

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.

  • Natedawg86

    Is 110-130 the normal amount of swings the guys have in a day? So is he basically going through the normal workout at maybe 80% (said he does not want to swing too hard)? I have no idea what he is going to do when he gets back so I am neither anxious or excited. I am just staying calm to see what happens. After Sizemore injuries, I patiently wait and see.

  • Chris

    I’m choosing to set the bar low by mentally preparing to not see him all year.

  • mgbode

    The goal for my 10U team is for 500 swings in a practice. most hit 300 pretty easily. MLB is different, but …

  • jpftribe

    If he’s still taking BP next week, I’ll be a lot more excited.

  • chrisdottcomm

    Man I wan to be so excited, but I fear the whispers of him never returning to form.

  • Steve

    Is that any swing or contacts? Same ? regarding Brantley.

  • Steve

    The 130-150 OPS+ guy was probably not going to be back even if he was healthy. A 110 or so mark though would be good enough to match Lindor and challenge for being worthy of the #3 spot again, and that, with non-Belle/Manny defense is going to be more than fine.

  • mgbode

    It depends on the practice.

    I try not to have youth do many air swings though because they get lazy and develop bad habits. We use whiffle balls, cheese balls, weighted balls, and more to vary the feel and force them to self-correct (talking doesn’t do much good other than motivation and encouragement I have found).

    In a practice where they get in 25-50 swings on the 15oz plyocare balls though (squishy), then they’ll have a bunch of light bat swings (~100) w/ whiffle balls to counter-balance that work.

    For Brantley, everything I have read are that those swings have gone from non-contact, to tee to soft toss to BP but that he has ONLY done those per day. I have not read that he is mixing on any one day (probably to limit too many reps on that shoulder)

  • Greg Popelka

    Agree. For years, I have told fans that if you cannot be a baseball optimist in spring training, you’re crazy. So I’m trying to practice what I preach. I am optimistic Michael Brantley will be a legitimate, contending team, 3-hole hitter by sometime early this season. He’ll extend the lineup and get platooned, and contribute. We don’t need the MVP candidate version.

  • Greg Popelka

    Excellent practice thoughts. I used to spend hours in the old orchard behind our lot, tossing up and crushing fallen apples with my Charlie Spikes bat. The bees really, really liked it. Would have been a terrific story if I’d have turned out to be good.

  • Saggy

    Plyocare!! a little Driveline Baseball, I see.

  • Saggy

    I’m in no way slotting him into the 3-hole in my mind just yet. I am hoping, but I am thinking a #6/7 hitter. I don’t want him to feel he needs to do too much, and the pressure at 3 could get him in trouble. Baby steps…

  • mgbode

    Yessir. Bought them and the training as part of my research here. Have expanded to utilize many, many others out there but they are still a staple. Great products that last too.

  • Saggy

    As you mentioned with regard to how he will feel later, I’ll wait until Thursday to see how he feels. That will be the day to tell us something. It’s always TWO days after, not the next day.

  • mgbode

    Throw and hit anything and everything of all different shapes, sizes, and textures. It’s how the best get there and the rest of us get as good as we can.

  • Saggy

    Driveline are freaking great. Love their work. So much of the tech is beyond my meager budgetary constraints, so I always look to what they’re doing.

  • mgbode

    Agreed.

  • Steve

    It will be interesting to see where he eventually fills in, if he does stay healthy, and isn’t that peak guy who clearly belongs at the top of the lineup.

    By the end of the season, I would like

    Santana-Guyer-Lindor-Encarnacion-Brantley-Ramirez-Kipnis-C-CF vs lefties

    and

    Kipnis-Santana-Brantley-Encarnacion-Lindor-Ramirez-Chis-C-Naquin vs righties

  • Saggy

    That could win a title.

  • JM85

    Great to hear. Hope he stays healthy. That lineup could he scary with him in it.

  • scripty

    The last chunk of his career, Derek Jeter took exactly 40 practice swings a day. However, he made efforts to get those 40 swings almost every day of the year.

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  • jpftribe

    Spot on Steve. Sandwiching EE between a healthy, decent Brantley and JRam would be sweet. Someone’s gonna see a lot of good pitches.

  • Hopwin

    I actually love how flexible all of our guy are when it comes to batting order.

  • jshmeezy6

    Random thought but I don’t think Jordan Bastian gets enough credit for being the best Cleveland beat writer.

  • jshmeezy6

    I do, too. It goes to show how well-constructed the team is. Most (if not all on a given day) make great contact, don’t really strike out a lot, and get on base. Just thinking about how consistent they will be gets me all tingly inside

  • tsm

    Good stuff. While my boys are now adults, we used to use golf ball sized whiffle balls with a comparable “bat:. It really helped develop the eye-hand coordination. The actual baseball would look huge after hitting those tiny balls.

  • mgbode

    Yes! We have those and use a quite thin 10oz bat to even up the ante on the difficulty. Love that drill.

  • mgbode

    each have their own strength
    -Bastian is non-stop w/ the news breaks
    -Meisel digs into the background stories the best
    -Lewis hits on some of the stat-based items really well