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Controversial Prospect: Michael Brantley

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We last looked at Brewers outfield prospect Michael Brantley about a year ago. He had just been promoted to Double-A at the time, and ended the year hitting ..251/.353/.294 in 59 games for Huntsville, with 18 steals in 21 attempts, and a 29/25 BB/K ratio in 187 at-bats. Although he showed very little power, he was young for Double-A, had skipped advanced-A altogether, and still showed excellent plate discipline. Note the very low strikeout rate combined with a high walk rate. I gave him a Grade C+ in the book this year, noting his youth, speed, and athleticism to go with the plate discipline and still rating him a major sleeper heading into 2008.

2008 has gone well. In 60 games for Huntsville, Brantley is hitting .337/.415/.426 with 31 walks, 14 strikeouts in 249 at-bats, with 17 steals in 23 attempts. The combination of high walks and useable speed on the bases still stands out, and he's reportedly improved his outfield defense as well. He's been a bit unpolished with the glove despite his speed, but that's getting better according to Brewers official Reid Nichols on my radio show a couple of weeks ago. His strikeout rate is even lower than last year. He's doubled his Isolated Power from a miniscule .043 last year to .089 this year. not exactly robust but a signficant improvement nonetheless. The point is not for Brantley to become a power hitter, but for him to develop enough pop to keep the pitchers honest.

Brantley turned 21 last month, so he's still quite youthful. At worst I see him as a good fourth outfielder, and if he really can boost the power and maintain that sort of batting average, OBP, and speed at higher levels, he could be a regular. I'm raising his grade to B-. If I were the Brewers, I would consider challenging him again with a move to Triple-A in July.