Sheldon Ocker

GOODYEAR, Ariz.: If Michael Brantley starts the season in center field — or even if he stays in left — he will remain the Indians’ leadoff batter.

Grady Sizemore is unlikely to begin the season on time because of a strained lower back. It’s unclear whether he would hit at the top of the order even if he were available for Opening Day, but that is probably a nonissue.

“Michael has been our leadoff hitter,” manager Manny Acta said Friday. “He starts the season as the No. 1 guy.”

Brantley batted in the lineup’s top spot 82 times in 2011, more than any other Tribe hitter. Sizemore was the leadoff batter in 30 games — mostly early in the season — but when he tried to return from his right knee injury, he often batted fifth (19 times) or sixth (11 times).

So who ranked third on the team in batting in the first position? Ezequiel Carrera hit in the leadoff spot 26 times. He will be one of a few outfielders trying to make the roster and be the guy who fills in for Sizemore.

Whoever earns a roster spot because of Sizemore’s absence will do so because he appears to be the best player available, regardless of whether he hits from the right or left side.

“We’re taking the best 25,” Acta said.

Just in time

The rehab program for Brantley’s hand is ending at the right time.

“He’s in the late stages of a return-to-hit program,” head trainer Lonnie Soloff said. “We’re hoping when camp [officially] starts [today], we’ll just be monitoring his body.”

Brantley underwent surgery last August to repair a broken hamate bone.

One is a lonely number

Baseball America has released its list of top 100 prospects, and the only Tribe player mentioned is last year’s first-round draft choice, Francisco Lindor, who is ranked No. 37.

Lindor is an 18-year-old shortstop who played only five professional games after signing last summer, going 6- for-19 at Mahoning Valley.

The Indians have another shortstop, 19-year-old Ronny Rodriguez, who some people in the organization think has a higher ceiling than Lindor, and Lindor is no slouch. Last year at Lake County, Rodriguez batted .246 with 28 doubles, 11 home runs and 42 RBI in 98 games.

The Indians are among five franchises that placed only one player among Baseball America’s top 100. The others: the San Francisco Giants, Miami Marlins, Philadelphia Phillies and the Chicago White Sox. The Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers led with six apiece.

Lofton in camp

Kenny Lofton arrived Friday to help teach base-running and the fine art of playing the outfield. It is Lofton’s second year as a spring training instructor.

Sheldon Ocker can be reached at socker@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/tribematters. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.