SURPRISE, Ariz. — Michael Brantley will be the center of attention in more ways than one this year.
With Grady Sizemore set to begin the season on the disabled list again, Brantley will open the year in Sizemore’s spot in center field and bat leadoff — Sizemore’s place in the order for much of his career.
Though it comes at the expense of a teammate, Brantley is looking forward to playing high-profile roles in the field and at the plate in his second full season in the majors.
“It’s exciting,” said Brantley, who was not in the lineup Sunday for the Indians’ 6-4 loss to the Royals at Surprise Stadium. “Center field, coming through the minor leagues, is where I played most and I also hit leadoff for most of my minor league career, so it’s a comfort thing for me.
“Every day you know that you’re going to be leading off to start the game. There’s nothing better than that, especially Opening Day. I will never forget it, coming up there the first batter of the 2011 season. It was awesome.”
It will be a repeat performance of sorts for Brantley, who filled in for Sizemore last season until he was sidelined himself to bring a disappointing end to what began as a promising year.
Brantley was bothered by right wrist and hand issues for a month before he was finally shut down Aug. 22. He underwent surgery shortly after.
“It was really frustrating,” said Brantley, who hit .266 with seven home runs, 46 RBIs and 13 stolen bases in 114 games. “I was doing so well at the beginning and everything was going so smooth. It was one injury that kind of lingered. That’s baseball. Everything’s not always going to be perfect.
“But at the same time, we got it fixed. I’m 100 percent healthy. I’m really looking forward to showing them what I can do through an entire year.”
If Brantley remains healthy, the Indians would like to see him better his below-average .318 on-base percentage from last season. The injury most likely contributed to the low number, but Brantley admits there is room to improve and believes he knows how.
“You be more selective at the plate, but at the same time, you have to be aggressive,” Brantley said. “It’s a little bit of both. I agree, it’s something I need to improve. I look forward to taking that extra step.”
Acta is confident Brantley, the son of former big leaguer Mickey, will. Acta also expects him to provide solid defense at the most pivotal outfield position.
“He’s well mature beyond his age. He’s always been that way,” Acta said of the 24-year-old Brantley, who was drafted by Milwaukee out of high school in 2005 and acquired from the Brewers as part of the CC Sabathia trade in 2008. “He comes from a good baseball background. He’s a guy that every day works hard at his craft. We can see him getting better.
“I’m very comfortable with Michael in center field. He’s been there the past two years.”
Knowing where he will play and the role he will fill has put Brantley at ease this spring. He’s batting .292 (7-for-24) with three doubles, a triple and four RBIs in nine games, though he is only concerned with one result as the regular season approaches.
“I’m feeling great,” Brantley said. “I’m healthy and that’s one of the biggest keys, getting out of here healthy. I’m just getting my timing down and getting into baseball shape. I feel good about where I am.”
With Brantley in center and atop the batting order, so do the Indians.