Cleveland Indians: Is Michael Brantley Under-Owned?

Three out of every 20 fantasy leagues still have the Cleveland Indians’ Michael Brantley on the waiver wire. Don’t miss the opportunity to add the star outfielder to your roster.

After the seemingly endless offseason, meaningful games have finally started. You will soon be able to tell whether your preseason preparation to pick the next breakout candidate or identify a fantasy sleeper, was worthwhile.

Very few people tagged Michael Brantley as a sleeper this year, based on him losing almost the entire 2016 season to injury, but if he is truly injury-free, then the left-hander needs to be owned in 100% of leagues.

In 2014, the top-3 hitters in fantasy were Brantley, Mike Trout and Jose Bautista. That shows how good the Indians’ outfielder was that year. His breakout included 20 home runs, 20 stolen bases and a .327/.385/.506 slash line. His skill as one of the most patient hitters in the game finally transferred into counting stats.

He was almost as good in 2015. Had he not missed 25 games at the end of the season with a shoulder issue, he would likely have finished as a top-10 hitter, somewhere between Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado. Brantley had never suffered from injuries, having averaged 152 games per year in the previous three seasons.

2016 was a disaster as he struggled to recover from shoulder surgery. So many times he was on the verge of a return only to suffer another setback. He was the most frustrating fantasy player to own last season. Too good to drop but never healthy enough to contribute. He ended up only playing 11 games which is part of the reason why he is under-owned at the moment.

A healthy Michael Brantley is a top-25 outfielder with the potential to finish in the top-5. Surely it has to be worth checking to see if he is unowned in your league?

Unless the Indians are concerned about overuse, Brantley will play left field every day and hit in one of the most exciting lineups in the AL.

His swinging strike rate of just 3.5% over the last five years is one of the best in the game. Brantley’s almost legendary restraint from swinging will be utilized by the Indians, with the left-hander hitting third, just ahead of offseason acquisition Edwin Encarnacion.

Brantley’s doubles power (league-leading 90 over the two years from 2014) and as many walks as strikeouts, gives the 29-year-old additional value in points leagues. His .302 batting average over his last 600 games before the injury-plagued 2016 season works well in any format.

It seems logical that the Indians think Brantley is back to 100 percent. Otherwise, they would not risk a repeat of 2016 by bringing him back too soon. As AL Central favorites, they will want all of their best players to be available at the business end of the season.

Consensus projection systems show Brantley with 12 home runs, ten stolen bases and a batting average over .300. If he plays the whole season, that sounds more like the floor of his production. Interestingly, the only other two outfielders projected for a .300 AVG with double-digit home runs and stolen bases are Mike Trout and Mookie Betts.

After missing the Indians last 133 regular season and 15 postseason games, Brantley had 26 at-bats in the Cactus League, slashing .385/.429/.692 with two home runs. Is Dr. Smooth back?

There is no knowing whether Brantley will be back to his very best or if that is just wishful thinking. He is a finesse hitter rather than a power hitter, so it is likely that his excellent batting eye and ability to resist striking out will not have deserted him.

I’ve already checked my leagues, and Brantley is not available in even my shallowest one. Maybe you will be more fortunate.