By August Fagerstrom
Beacon Journal sports writer
CLEVELAND: Indians fans have considered Michael Brantley an All-Star for years, despite him never making the trip to the Midseason Classic.
No longer is that the case, as Brantley has earned a spot on the 2014 American League All-Star roster as a reserve outfielder.
Brantley will not start, but joins the likes of Mike Trout, Jose Bautista, Adam Jones and Nelson Cruz as the American League’s outfielders.
“Its an honor, a blessing,” Brantley said of the selection. “A lot of hard work has paid off and [I] credit this team and organization. I’m very excited and happy to share it with these guys on this team.”
Brantley has taken a major step forward offensively this season, specifically in the power department. A left-hander, Brantley has been the Indians best hitter with a .321 average and a .385 on-base percentage. His 13 home runs are tied for tops on the team with Carlos Santana and he leads the Indians with 57 RBI.
“My mindset,” Brantley said when asked what’s changed. “My mindset to be aggressive and attack the ball early while not trying to do much; getting a good pitch early and getting a good swing on it. In the past, I would take a lot of 2-0 strikes, 3-0 strikes, 3-1. This year I’m being more aggressive and it’s a different mindset for me.”
Factor in his solid base-running (10 steals) and defense (10 outfield assists) and Brantley has been worth nearly three WAR (Wins Above Replacement), second only to Alex Gordon among major league left fielders.
Brantley earned his spot as a result of the player vote, showing the respect he’s earned from his peers.
“I think it’s well-deserved,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I think it means a lot that the players voted for him. I think that shows the respect he has and is growing throughout our league. That was one of the more pleasurable conversations I’ve had in a long time.”
On the other side, Tribe ace Corey Kluber has a chance to join Brantley in Minnesota as one of the five finalists for the online vote.
Voting will run through Thursday at 4 p.m. Eastern Time on MLB.com.
Kluber’s competition in the final fan vote will come from pitchers Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox, Garrett Richards of the Los Angeles Angels, Rick Porcello of the Detroit Tigers and Dallas Keuchel of the Houston Astros.
Kluber (8-6) has been one of the most dominant starting pitchers in the entire MLB, with a 2.86 ERA and top-of-the-line strikeout, walk and home run rates. His three-and-a-half WAR trail only Felix Hernandez and Jon Lester in the entire MLB.
Kluber also has taken a major leap forward this year, and credits his confidence.
Francona admits that given Kluber’s lack of name recognition and Cleveland’s market, Kluber could be a long shot to earn the votes necessary.
All the more reason to get the fans on board.
“Rather than gripe about it, what we can do as a city is jump on board and show support for Kluber and find a way to get him on that team,” Francona said. “I think that would be a phenomenal feat, for us as a city, to get him on that team. Because his pitching deserves it. Now is the chance for the fans to support it.”