Brantley Takes Center Stage In Cleveland





GOODYEAR, ARIZ.—With the start of the season officially delayed for Grady Sizemore as he continues the arduous recovery from microfracture surgery on his left knee, the center fielder's absence has left at least a temporary opening for another promising and dynamic outfielder—Michael Brantley.

A 6-foot-2, 200-pound lefthanded hitter, Brantley was a seventh-round pick of the Brewers out of high school in 2005. As the son of former major league player and coach Mickey Brantley, baseball in his blood.

The 23-year-old heir apparent to Sizemore in the Cleveland lineup has patiently played many roles. He made his major league debut in 2009 and then split time between Cleveland and Triple-A Columbus last season. Brantley joined the organization in 2008 as the player to be named in the C.C. Sabathia trade, which so far has yielded only first baseman Matt LaPorta.

Entering the season, Brantley initially was in the mix to win a job in left field. But until Sizemore's knee is ready, manager Manny Acta said that Brantley is his center fielder.

The Indians will welcome enhanced offensive contributions from Brantley—who hit just .246/.296/.327 in 297 at-bats last year—but Cleveland especially wants him to focus on something else: taking advantage of his speed on the basepaths.

That's why Brantley, who has stolen 14 bases in 20 career attempts, spent the early part of camp working with minor league baserunning coordinator Gary Thurman and guest instructor Kenny Lofton.

"I think Michael is going to be a fine piece for us," Acta said. "He continues to work really hard on shortening up his swing. You can really tell in batting practice that he's driving the ball much better."

SMOKE SIGNALS

• Early in spring training the Indians acquired second baseman/outfielder Matt Lawson from the Mariners in exchange for lefthander Aaron Laffey. The 25-year-old Lawson split last season between the Rangers' Double-A Frisco affiliate and Double-A West Tennessee with the Mariners, batting a combined .293/.372/.439 in 118 games. He was included as a throw-in in the Rangers' July acquisition of Cliff Lee.

• The Indians sent top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall to minor league camp on March 14, even though the third baseman hit .478 with two homers in big league camp. He's headed for Triple-A.