In 2008, the Cleveland Indians traded CC Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers for top prospect Matt LaPorta, Zach Jackson, Rob Bryson and a player to be named later. That player turned out to be former seventh-round draft pick Michael Brantley, who is currently the only one of the four playing at the Major League level. In fact, not only is he the lone player to stick around in the bigs, he's putting up gigantic numbers as well.
During the time when the Indians were deciding what player they were going to steal from the Brewers, there were only two real options; Brantley or third baseman Taylor Green. Neither were among the organization's top prospects, according to Baseball America, but Green was only in Class A at the time and had just come off a season in which he batted .289 with 15 home runs. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, the Indians picked the right guy as Green has just a .207/.266/.351 slash line and a -0.7 fWAR over parts of two seasons in the Majors. He is still in Milwaukee's farm system, putting up subpar numbers in Triple A.
But this isn't about Green or his failures. This piece is about the player Brantley has come to be.
In the minors, Brantley always hit for a solid average, but the power wasn't really there yet and, truth be told, no one was sure if he'd ever be a 15+ homer guy despite his 6'2", 200 pound frame. During his five seasons in the minors, Brantley hit a total of 16 home runs. Since the beginning of last season, he has 21 -- 10 in 2013 and 11 so far this season.
More importantly, Brantley has become a much better overall hitter with each new season in Cleveland. I've put together a chart that demonstrates his improvement from 2010. I excluded his 2009 and 2010 seasons because he accumulated less than 100 games in both, which is too small a sample size in which to place any merit. Stats are as of June 23.
Except for an extremely small blemish in 2013 from the previous season, Brantley has upped his stats each season. In addition, he's no longer just a singles hitter. He's ripped 19 doubles this season after totaling 19 in all of 2013. When the Indians added him to their squad, GM Mark Shapiro said he liked Brantley because of his athleticism.
"We like him because he gives us a combination of plate discipline, speed and athleticism," said Shapiro. "We think he can help our run production with his discipline at the plate and speed on the bases."
Brantley has been everything Shapiro wanted and then some. He's walking more and striking out less, a sign of a player who has the game figured out. Brantley has stolen double-digit bases for four consecutive seasons, and with one more in 2014, it'll be five. Shapiro didn't expect the power Brantley has recently shown, but that surely went into his decision to extend him to a four-year, $25 million contract this winter.
The Indians have been ridiculed for trading away Sabathia for a bust in LaPorta, but what hasn't been discussed is the player they found in Brantley. He alone has salvaged that trade, and maybe he'll make his first All-Star appearance this year. He probably won't be a starter, but his performance qualifies him as one.
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Justin Schultz is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @JSchu23.