Originally posted on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 3/19/12

Until I was about seventeen, I was pretty sure Paraguay was an island nation in the South Pacific.  It just sounded so right I never even bothered to check: the Philippines is next to Guam is next to Paraguay.  QED.  When I found out that I was, in fact, horribly wrong and that I could actually drive to Paraguay if so inclined, I was embarrassed.  The moral of the story: It’s never a good thing to be surprised by publicly available facts.

This is sort of how I felt when I was looking at some of Michael Brantley’s numbers the other day, but let me back up before we get there.

The narrative I’ve constructed in my head says that Michael Brantley is one part of the four-piece bust we got in return for CC Sabathia.  While he’s not as spectacular a bust as LaPorta, that’s mostly due to the fact that he was never all that highly regarded in the first place.  Brantley probably has the skills to be a fourth outfielder on a good team or a centerfielder on a mediocre one, but to expect more than that borders on hallucinatory.  To expect him to hit enough to hold down a corner OF spot is downright insane.

But here’s what I found out the other day that made me start rethinking things: Michael Brantley is YOUNGER than Jason Kipnis.  I’ve not been so surprised since Paraguay.

Not that I want to carry the Brantley-Kipnis thing to any extreme, but it is interesting to me that while Kipnis was allowed time to develop at his own speed in the Minor Leagues, Brantley was forced onto the Big League roster at the age of 22 because the team had so few viable OF alternatives.

To me then, it would seem possible that the Brantley that we’ve seen so far has been largely a work-in-progress.  And that just because I’m tired of seeing him ground out weakly to second base, doesn’t mean it must always be so.

When we acquired Brantley, his skills were said to be twofold: getting on base and speed.  In parts of three Big League seasons he has a .316 OBP and 27 stolen bases and thrown in some sub-par defense just for good measure.

But this is where we remember that he’s only 24 years old, and that most players his age don’t have three years of MLB experience to learn from.  There’s a reason teams don’t typically rush young players to the majors—even Grade A prospects like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.  No matter how much potential a player might have, that potential means nothing until the player learns how to unlock it.  Perhaps these last few years have allowed Brantley time to find the key?

We once thought that Michael Brantley could be the next important piece of our outfield.  Maybe we just expected it to happen too quickly.  Don’t look now, but he’s got a .379 OBP so far this Spring.  He’s walked as often as he’s struck out.  And more than half of his hits have been for extra bases.  This isn’t me saying that you should believe in these numbers.

But maybe we should stop believing so much in the numbers he put up three years ago.  There’s a good possibility he’s a different player today, and he’s going to have every opportunity to prove it this season.

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