Never did Brantley show off his game better than he did last September, when he was a late-season spark plug on a Tribe team guided by a lame-duck manager and losing games at a feverish pace. Brantley showed up just in time to take the leadoff and center field reins from an injured Grady Sizemore and reached base safely with a hit or walk in 25 of his 28 games played.Whenever a rookie comes up and plays as if he's been here before, it catches attention, even if the rookie in question has a Major League pedigree (as Brantley, the son of former outfielder and hitting coach Mickey Brantley, does). But Brantley's sizzling September was made all the more remarkable by the fact that his numbers at Triple-A Columbus had been rather pedestrian, save for the 46 bags he swiped. "For me, it was more mental," Brantley said. "I was pushing myself so hard mentally [at Triple-A] that I wasn't able to perform to the best of my abilities. I was trying to do way too much and show the Indians they made a great choice in the trade. But I just learned to play my game, and I took that [approach] to the Major League level." The thought of taking that approach back to the Minors doesn't appear to faze Brantley. He's smart enough to understand the business side of the game and the fact that if the Indians keep him on their Opening Day roster, his arbitration clock will start ticking. Whether the Indians admit it publicly or not, that was a factor in the decision to sign Branyan, though the lingering questions about Branyan's back add a layer of drama to Brantley's outlook. Of course, the presence of veteran Austin Kearns, brought in on a Minor League contract, also has the potential to impact him. "At the end of camp, we'll find out where I'm going," Brantley said. "It's up in the air. There's nothing I can do except play on the field. I try not to worry about where I'm going or what people are saying." One thing people are saying about Brantley this spring is that the noticeable bulk he put on with a rigorous offseason weight-training program has added a little more thump to his swing. The knock on Brantley last year was that he was essentially a singles hitter, notching just 29 extra-base hits in Triple-A and four in the Majors. Brantley added about 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason, and he hopes it will help him drive the ball to the gaps with more consistency. He also feels stronger in the legs, which could help him on the basepaths. "It was all good weight," Brantley said. "I'm happy with the weight I put on. I'm holding it well. I can still run, and I still feel athletic. As long as I can hold the weight, I'll keep it." Whether or not the Indians keep Brantley aboard, he has work to do. And general manager Mark Shapiro, for one, has been quick to point out that sending Brantley back to Triple-A might be the best for all involved. "He's 22 years old, he had a solid but not special Triple-A season, and he had 100 good plate appearances up here, whatever that means," Shapiro said. "He does have an approach on the field that's above his chronological age. That being said, there's benefits to him being here, and there's benefits to him being in the Minor Leagues." For now, Brantley's job is to make the decision as difficult as possible for the Indians. And even if he's sent to Columbus, he'll take pride in his number and wait to hear his name. "I feel great when I see that 23," he said. "Any time I come in and see my name on the back of a jersey, that means I'm still playing baseball, and I'm happy."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.