When preparing for a new season, fantasy baseball enthusiasts are always wanting to know who is going to be the next big breakout player. Drafting or picking up a player on waivers for his breakout season gives fantasy owners a feeling of superiority, a feeling of omniscience in some sense. Whether that feeling is justified or not is another question. But even if your team comes in last place, you can take ownership that you “knew” Jose Bautista would bust out for 54 HR, or that your hunch that R.A. Dickey would knuckle his way into a Cy Young Award panned out. So at The Backwards K, there is a series of posts titled “This Year’s…” where I will tell you who I think this year’s version of a 2014 breakout player will be, providing some background and analysis.Embed from Getty Images
Michael Brantley was a 7th round selection by the Brewers in the 2005 draft and he then was included in a part of a package of prospects as the “player to be named later” going to the Indians in the trade that sent C.C. Sabathia to the Brewers as a rental in 2008. Brantley reached the Majors as a September call-up in 2009, but it was not until the 2011 season when he became more of a permanent fixture in the Indians lineup. While Brantley was proving to be a very useful real life baseball player, he was rather ho-hum for fantasy as a low power hitter with a little speed and decent batting average. However, in 2014, Brantley delivered a performance that made the baseball community change the way that he was viewed.
Coming up through the Minors, Brantley was a player that displayed a good feel for the strike zone and had a superb ability to put the ball in play as he struck out just 8.9% of the time as a Minor Leaguer. He put that skill to great use in his breakout season last year as he struck out just 8.3% of the time. The career best strikeout rate allowed him to hit for a career high .327 AVG. However, the average was not as much of a surprise as his sudden power surge was. Brantley seemingly came out of nowhere to hit 20 HR, which was twice the amount of his previous career high of 10 in 2013. As a Minor League player he never even hit double digit HR in a single season, but 2014 was his magical age 27 season (the age that is widely considered to be a hitter’s prime) and all bets were off. In addition to the power, he also chipped in 23 SB, also a career high. But having stolen as many as 50 bases in a single season before between AAA and the Majors in 2009, it’s been expected of him to be more of a stolen base threat at the Major League level. Brantley’s season went down as one of the biggest breakthroughs of the 2014 season and in addition to the .327 AVG, 20 HR, and 23 SB, he produced 97 RBI and 90 R to be a true five category stud. Whether or not that level of production is sustainable is another story, as right now I am just here to tell you who could be this year’s Brantley.