Cleveland Indians outfielder Michael Brantley missed all but 11 games during the 2016 season, and was forced to watch from the dugout as the team won its first American League Central Division title since 2007 and made a trip to the World Series for the first time in 19 years.
But after a second surgery on his ailing shoulder and three additional months to recover as compared to the offseason ahead of the 2016 season, the Indians are hoping to have Brantley’s bat back in the middle of the order.
“Just to get Michael back will be unbelievable,” catcher Yan Gomes said. “I’ve told him, ‘Even though I’ve played with Edwin (Encarnacion) in Toronto and a lot of really good guys, Brantley’s the best player I’ve ever played with.’
“When you get to watch him play and see the way he goes about himself, it’s definitely a guy you want to follow, a guy you want on your side too because he definitely helps out the lineup throughout (with) just the way he goes about it and his at-bats.”
Cleveland Indians' Michael Brantley progressing well from shoulder surgery
On multiple occasions last season, Brantley tried to rehabilitate his shoulder injury, something he thought was addressed with offseason surgery in November of 2015. However, every time Brantley went through the progression, he was unable to come through minor league rehab starts without setbacks.
Brantley was officially shut down for the remainder of the season in August when he had to undergo another surgery.
“Having Brantley back in the lineup, hopefully, God-willing, he’s back,” shortstop Francisco Lindor said. “I saw him hitting, and he looks pretty good. Having Encarnacion in the lineup, just by his name being in the lineup, he makes the team better and he’s a great person.
“I’m sure he’s going to help us a lot, and I’m looking forward to 162 games with my teammates, with every one of my teammates, especially those two because I love Brantley.”
In just 11 games with the Indians last season, Brantley registered nine hits over 39 at-bats, including two doubles, with seven runs batted in, five runs scored, three walks and one stolen base. But when healthy, Brantley has shown an ability to be one of the best hitters in baseball.
In 2014, Brantley was the first player in the 114-year history of the Indians’ franchise, and ninth player in MLB annals, to have 200 hits, and at least 45 doubles, 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in the same season. Brantley was the ninth member of the Indians’ 20-home run, 20-steals club, and the first Cleveland player since 1996 to reach the 200-hit plateau.
During that 2014 season, Brantley finished second in the American League in hits (200), third in batting average (.327) and doubles (45), fourth in on-base percentage (.385), tied for sixth in runs scored (94), seventh in on-base plus slugging percentage (.890), 11th in steals (23) and 12th in RBI (97).
“Then, you add Michael, who, in my mind, is one of the best hitters in all of the league at just not giving away at-bats and making the pitcher earn every out that he gets,” second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “Those two guys, it’s two different ways of going about it, but they both bring a lot of runs scored to the table when they’re both healthy and hitting.”