In my maiden post, I begin a five-part series on players who represent value on draft day in all stages. First up: outfielder Michael Brantley. Brantley made eyes turn ever slightly towards Cleveland last year, making the all-star team as a reserve and helping the Indians within arm’s reach of the wild card. He did so steadily under the radar while all focused more on wunderkind Mike Trout and the prince of Pittsburgh, Andrew McCutchen.
Brantley is a third-round pick, late second-round at best, but he presents early value (to some a redundant statement, since we should all look for value in every round) to those who miss out on Trout, McCutchen, and Carlos Gomez. I’d rather have Brantley heading my outfield over the higher ranked Yasiel Puig and Adam Jones.
There is no doubt in my mind that Puig is going to be considered a great one day. I’ve seen him go as early as 11th in mocks, even over Jose Bautista. Last year, Puig hit .296/.382/.480/145 (AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS+) with 16 home runs and a 5.4 WAR at 23 in his first full season; an above-average year that fared better than Adam Jones’ .281/.311/.469/.118 with 29 HR’s and 4.9 WAR (Jones’ power being the sole reason he outranks Puig).
Michael Brantley, in his age-27 season, batted .327/.385/.506/154 with 20 HR’s and 7 WAR in 156 games. 2014 was Brantley’s best year in a steady career climb towards the upper echelons of baseball relativity. He had a slight down-step in 2012, but those numbers were close enough to the previous season, whereas Puig has less than two seasons of experience.
Brantley and Puig are similar in their patience practices. Last year, Puig walked 67 times and struck-out 124 times in 558 at-bats; a 22% strikeout rate. Brantley walked 52 times, but only struck-out 56 times in 611 at-bats: 9% of the time. Brantley exceeded Puig’s output in doubles, HR, RBI, runs, SB, and WAR last season, and if its value you are looking for, Michael Brantley is the face of value. I would rather have a bill with Lincoln’s face on it than Washington’s.
The case for Michael Brantley closes when you see the almost flawless uptrend of Brantley’s career, which is the decision-maker in who I trust. Puig’s inexperience makes him a harder pick for me. They say that three times and it’s a pattern, so I will not trust Puig until 2016 (which, I know, will infuriate some with all of Puig’s upside). Brantley has steadily grown into a great outfield bat.
He may not put up Trout’s numbers or have the track record of Andrew McCutchen, but he can play in the same ballpark. Brantley is essentially Puig without the hype and only a little older. Save a little, fill another need (like an ace, who have been maintaining a steady uprising in the second round) and draft Michael Brantley a little later.