Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Brantley's January 2017 Hitting Progressions + Other News & Pics

hello there, Brantley fans! spring training is right around the corner and that's when we'll start to get a much better idea of where Michael is at physically and how he can handle the day-to-day activities that baseball requires of him. but for now, i have accumulated every bit of news that came out about Michael in the month of January, including his hitting progressions, rehab information, quotes, and pictures. so let's get into it!

January 3: Jordan Bastian tweeted that Michael began some non-contact swinging over the holiday break while back home and will continue his rehab in Cleveland this week.

January 4: in his first Indians Inbox of 2017 on indians.com, Bastian addressed Jonah Keri's statement on Michael--"this is a horrific, horrifically bad injury and there's some problems"--from December 23, 2016. Bastian sensibly pointed out that nothing else yet thus far supports Keri's claim and because this is the middle of the offseason, everything right now should be treated as speculation. he also remarked
that it will be easier to gauge Michael's progress when reporters can monitor his daily activity in the spring.

January 5: Bastian reported in his indians.com article that Michael is now back in Cleveland continuing his rehab. "we're working through his tolerance," Chris Antonetti, Indians President of Baseball Operations, revealed. "he's continuing to progress. as each day goes by, we'll hopefully continue to get more and more information and continue to see him make more progress."

Antonetti further noted that it is difficult to have specific dates for the next steps in Michael's hitting progression, as the schedule is dictated on how he responds to the increased level of activity. "if you think back to the points of time that Michael felt symptoms again, that was more towards the end stages of his return to hit progression, where he was feeling great all along the way. and it wasn't until he got to game activity that it started to bother him. i don't think we're going to have a great feel for it until after he passes that last hurdle."

January 7: someone asked Paul Hoynes for an update on Michael's health in the latest Hey, Hoynsie on cleveland.com. Hoynsie reiterated that Michael has started swinging the bat and the Indians remain optimistic that he'll be ready to participate in all drills in spring training. then Hoynsie added, "but no one will know for sure until he starts testing his right shoulder at-bat to at-bat and game to game. until he can get past that point, and prove he can stay on the field and produce on a consistent basis, he has to be considered a question mark."

January 11: Zack Meisel authored an article about Michael on cleveland.com, which was mostly an unsure and slightly negative take on his future. there really wasn't any Michael news in it either, only that he's taken dry swings in Cleveland this month. however, Antonetti was quoted as saying, "it's really difficult to have specific dates and times. we were really optimistic last spring. we all saw it: he came back, flew through his rehab, homered in his games, the quality of his at bats were great. but, ultimately, that game activity and game speed ended up bothering him. we've relied on a lot of different opinions of a lot of different medical professionals who are familiar with this type of injury. we've seen at least three or four doctors who are in concurrence about the path that he's on and the rehab protocol that he's going through. that's the advice we'll continue to rely upon."

general manager Mike Chernoff deduced, "based on the information, we're very hopeful and confident."

January 13: the Indians announced Michael would be in attendance at Tribe Fest on Saturday, January 28. additional information about that can be found in my blog post here.

January 17: Michael was photographed in the Kent State Golden Flashes locker room after visiting with the Kent State University baseball team in Kent, Ohio:

photo courtesy of @KentStBaseball on twitter

January 18: T.J. Zuppe tweeted that via a conference call, Antonetti declared Michael is continuing with his hitting progression and now taking swings off a tee. 

January 22: MLB Network publicized their Top 10 Left Fielders Right Now, and Michael was ranked #5 on their list. i wrote a separate blog with more details here. 

January 24: Nick Camino sat in on the Indians radio affiliate luncheon at Progressive Field and according to him, Chernoff indicated things appear to be on schedule for Michael, but he wouldn't commit to a timetable. Camino also relayed that Chernie mentioned Michael is hitting and throwing now and as spring training gets closer and the season, they'll know how ready he is.

January 25: like last year, some of the Indians players who were in town ahead of Tribe Fest held a voluntary morning minicamp at the Cleveland Browns training facility in Berea, Ohio.

the Indians twitter account posted some videos from the workout that included Michael.
this vid shows Michael playing catch with Yan Gomes,
this vid shows Michael running, and
this vid shows Michael doing agility drills.

and here is a photo of Michael about to throw the ball:

photo courtesy of @Indians on twitter

per an exclusive article by Bastian on indians.com, the minicamp will be held once again tomorrow [January 26] with no media members allowed. conversely, there is a scheduled interview session for reporters to talk with the players on Friday afternoon [January 27].

Bastian did get Matt Quatraro, the Indians assistant hitting coach, to do a phone interview with him though, and Q gave a few updates on what he personally saw from Michael. "he hit this morning. that was good to see. the ball was coming off the bat good. i mean, he's still going through the progression that the trainers have laid out. it's not [batting practice] or anything yet. it's just off the tee, but it was really encouraging to see.

"last year, i think it was wishful thinking that he was going to be ready to go. this year, i think it's more that [the medical staff and trainers] believe he'll be ready to go, because of how many steps they had to go through to find out what the actual problem was. now, diagnosing it and thinking that they have it remedied, i think they're way more optimistic. i shouldn't be speaking for them as a medical staff, but it seems that way. just the thought that we could add him, it's like picking up another All-Star free agent."

Indians hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo divulged he's excited to step back into the batting cage to get a close look at how Brantley's swing looks heading into the preseason. "i really am. i'm just keeping my fingers crossed that everything goes well and he doesn't have any setbacks, because that's a pretty good lineup if you throw him in there, too. that's pretty deep. i've heard that he's doing well and getting strong and should be fine."

furthermore, Bastian's article acknowledged that Michael is ahead of where he was a year ago. in 2016, Michael didn't start hitting off a tee until February 21, and his advancement to soft toss drills didn't come until March 2. (Bastian's actually wrong on both counts: Michael's progressions in 2016 came on February 20 and February 29, respectively.)

MY THOUGHTS: Michael's November 9, 2015 surgery for the torn labrum had a six-month recovery timetable; his August 15, 2016 surgery for chronic right biceps tendinitis had a four- to five-month recovery timetable. during his two rehabs, Michael started his hitting off a tee on February 20, 2016 versus approximately January 18, 2017. so after having his biceps surgery three months earlier than his labrum surgery, and being given a shorter recovery period, he's only a month ahead of schedule? does that seem right? looking at it my way, it really only adds to the whole 'Michael came back too soon last year' argument. either that, or they're purposely going a little slower this time as a precaution. or maybe it's a combination of both of those things. regardless, these surgeries were for two separate issues. the first was resolved, and i really hope the biceps pain is gone for good now as well.

later someone commented on twitter that he was pleased to see the Indians' video of Michael throwing the ball. Bastian replied that throwing has nothing to do with his right shoulder; the finish on his swing is the most important aspect to monitor. that is what i've been trying to tell people for months, but what do i know?😞

at night, Michael went to the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball game at Quicken Loans Arena. sadly, like in December 2016, no one supplied any photos of him there. be that as it may, after the game, Michael was a guest on the CavsHQ Show with John Michael and Rafael Hernandez, broadcast on FOX Sports Ohio.

photo courtesy of @CavsJMike

what i've provided for you here is what i felt were the most interesting points of his two-part interview. but if you want to know everything that was discussed, watch this video. (note: that link goes directly to the Part 2 video. for some reason, the Part 1 video does not have a separate url. so in order to see that, you'll have to search through the cavs.com video archives. i'm sorry.)

they started off by inquiring how Michael is feeling. "shoulder's coming along great. it's been a long offseason, i've been here all offseason... but it's been a great offseason so far for me."

on why he didn't want to pursue a career as a basketball player: "i played basketball in middle school. when i went to high school, my freshman year i was gonna play, but i found out that it runs two weeks into baseball season. and i was instructed by the coach that i could come out and play and then when baseball started, i could leave. but i didn't wanna leave a team towards the end of the season slash back to the playoffs, so i decided to stick with baseball at that time. but i love basketball, basketball's my first love actually. i love playing basketball, but at the same time i saw a lot of progress, a lot of good things happening in baseball, too, so i think i made a good decision."

as for growing up as the son of a Major Leaguer (former Seattle Mariner Mickey Brantley) and coach, "my father made it so i could almost go everywhere with him. in the summer when i didn't have school, if he traveled on a short trip, i got to go. so he always kept me around. and a lot of guys were playing summer ball and travel ball and all that stuff; i was going to the ballpark, playing with minor leaguers, and just being around baseball. but just getting that atmosphere of the minor league grind and what players are doing and how players are getting better and just getting that experience of being around older guys, so it helped my development. catching fly balls and shagging fly balls that a 22-year old hit and now i'm only 12, you know, i can catch this, so it made it a little bit easier for me."

Michael's interview wrapped with his message to fans for the upcoming season. "be excited. be excited as every player in that locker room is. we have such a great group of guys that are willing to do anything it takes to get back to where we just were, they're gonna give it all they got. it's gonna be a fun, a long season, but a fun season to be a part of. can't wait to see everybody out there."

various other topics explored on the show consist of Michael being a Cavs season ticket holder, missing out on playing with his teammates last year, someday sharing the story of the Indians being in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series with his kids, riding Terry Francona's scooter, Tito as a manager, the starting pitchers (especially Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber) being the jokers on the team, Fenway Park as his favorite road ballpark, looking up to and trying to emulate Ken Griffey, Jr., and Tito allowing families in the clubhouse. again, watch the videos for more on that.

January 27: The City Club of Cleveland conducted a Friday Forum talk at a noon luncheon as part of a Business Leader series that featured Francona and Chernoff in front of a room full of people including some high school students. in a video streamed live on cleveland.com's facebook page and then archived by Hayden Grove in a cleveland.com article, Tito told everyone the following about Michael: "he had 11 at bats for us last year. it was a miserable year for him. this kid has lived in Cleveland the last two winters, he has not missed a day at the ballpark every morning. if being conscientious and diligence means anything, he's gonna hit .400 this year. i mean it's unbelievable. this guy has never once stopped working, it's incredible."

later in the afternoon, the players were at the Wild Eagle Saloon, a Playhouse Square bar and restaurant in downtown Cleveland, for pre-Tribe Fest, where they played arcade games and made themselves available to meet with the media.

photo courtesy of @Indians on twitter

Grove of cleveland.com was there and recorded video for facebook live as a crowd surrounded Michael and fired away with their questions. i have only transcribed the most pertinent details relating to his rehab. (note: the beginning was difficult to hear because of the loud background noise and where Grove was standing, but my written quotes should still be accurate.) while i can't directly link to that video (you have to search through the videos on cleveland.com's facebook page to find it), there is a small portion of the session viewable on John Alfes' twitter.

photo courtesy of Ben Fontana via CBS Radio Cleveland

where is he now hitting-wise, swinging the bat, that sort of thing? "three sets, three times a day off the tee. 40, 50 swings in succession. just gonna keep progressing til i get out to Arizona in the next couple weeks."

no problems, no setbacks? how has he felt so far? "i feel good. no problems, no setbacks. i still got a progression and a ways to go, but everything looks good so far."

does he feel any different than he did a year ago? "yeah. i feel better. i'm happy where i'm at. i still understand there's hurdles in the process to go and i look forward to tackling them."

is it frustrating that he went through all of this last year, yet he's never really going to know... until he gets to see how it responds? "i'm prepared for it mentally and physically and i'm gonna do everything in my power to put myself in the best possible scenario to be ready for that situation. when it comes, i'll be ready for the task."

has he talked to anybody who went through the same operation that he had? "no."

did the doctor give him a percent chance of recovery after the surgery? "no." no? "no."

what he went through last year, does it change how he's going to approach spring training and the start of the season this year? "it all depends on where i'm at and how everything's going progression-wise and the schedule they have me on and the medical staff and what we put together. but it's not gonna change the way i play or any mentality or anything i'm gonna do, hopefully, during spring training and getting ready for the season."

is there a different perspective on the game that he got last year watching from the dugout? what does that experience do for him? "well, i got to be there with the fellas and understand, you know, the media, the grind, the understanding of what do you have to do for pregame, during the game, and all that stuff. so i got to experience all that side of it. not in between the white lines, but just being there with my teammates in that situation, it's a great feeling. they did a great job last year, i just want to be a part of it."

does it give him a greater appreciation for the game? being away? "absolutely. i mean, once something's taken away from you that you love and care so much, especially with the group of guys that we have here, it's like a family. you just want to get back out there with your family at full strength and help 'em win some baseball games."

is he further ahead now than where he was at this point a year ago? "i am. i am, i'm ahead of where i was going into spring training last year. still got weeks to go 'til spring training for position players. i am ahead of schedule from where i was last year."

what has it meant to him to have [fan] support [regarding wanting him back]? "that's great. i hear it all the time and i appreciate every one of them. i want to be back more than anybody, i know you guys know that, but just having the support of fans and how much they're appreciative of everything that this team did means a lot to us."

has he allowed himself to dream about what it would be like to hit in the middle of the lineup with Edwin [Encarnacion]? "absolutely. the lineup we're projected to have, i mean it's a long way til spring training, it's great. i just want to be a part of it and contribute. we have such a great group of guys around here that learned so much from last year, got so much experience, and they're hungry to get back there. it's gonna be a fun season."

is there any aspect that he wishes he would have either done differently or changed a little bit? or something he maybe thinks had he done it another way, things would have worked out differently [last year]? "of course i've thought about it, but absolutely not. i did everything in my power to get back, strengthening-wise, medical-wise, just anything i could do. it just didn't work out. it's something that i learned from and i'm only gonna get better for it. it only made me hungrier to get back out there so i can't wait to do it."

when he can come back, is he gonna try to do it as an every day fielder or as maybe a DH? "no, every day. that's my whole goal. i love playing defense, i love being out there with my teammates and i want to hit the ground running. that's the whole reason i stayed in Cleveland this offseason and trained with our great trainers that we have and just being ready so when that time comes there'll be no problems."

realistically, what does he think his timetable is going into spring training? will it be a slow-go for a while? "it all depends on where i'm at in the progression. like i said, spring training's still a couple weeks away for us to even report, so i gotta make sure next week goes well and the week after that and then we'll make a decision from there. so i can't say anything for another, at least a couple weeks 'til i know where i'm at hitting-wise, progression-wise, and how i'm feeling."

progression-wise, does he think when spring training happens, he'll be in line with where his teammates are? "i agree. i should be. but it's still not set in stone yet. like i said, it's one step at a time. i'm not looking too far ahead. i want to make sure i stay on course and do everything i can the right way to get back as soon as possible."

knowing that [he did everything right last year] and there were still problems, does that change his approach this season? "what, to keep pushing harder? no. it's the only way i think. there's only one way to do it and that's to keep working just like the trainers and doctors are asking and do it to the best of your ability. it's out of my hands after that, but i tell you one thing, i'm gonna give it all i got."

is Opening Day his target again [like last year]? "i won't say a target and i won't say nothing. all i know is i'm healthy right now, i got a progression to go through and once i get through that, i'll be ready to rock 'n' roll."

Michael was interviewed for TV as well, and from a short video on Matt Florjancic's twitter, he stated he was very excited about staying on track and getting back on the field, and that he's looking forward to contributing in a positive way to the team this season.

Francona had a few kind things to say about Michael when he also met with the media at the Saloon. from Bastian's indians.com article, Tito expressed, "i think he feels he's making great progress. you've just got to let it play itself out. there's a program in place--he follows it to a T. and, hopefully, as he gets into games, we won't run into that last hurdle. that would be wonderful for us. we miss him more than people realize." 

January 28: at Tribe Fest 2017, which was held at the InterContinental Hotel on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic, Chernoff spoke with Betsy Kling and Dave DeNatale. coverage was streamed live on wkyc.com. when DeNatale brought up Michael, Chernie claimed he was "already hitting in the cage." i took that to mean he's simply hitting off a tee from inside the batting cage.

here are several photos of Michael at the event signing autographs for and taking pictures with fans:

photo courtesy of @clevelanddotcom on twitter
photo courtesy of @clevelanddotcom on twitter
photo courtesy of @Indians on twitter
photo courtesy of @Indians on twitter
photo courtesy of @EmC_CTScan on twitter
photo courtesy of @Contrarian82 on twitter
photo courtesy of @WintersGo on twitter

as you can see, Michael joined SportsTime Ohio's Andre Knott and Jensen Lewis for a chat, but i didn't hear the exchange or find it anywhere online. although, considering he just gave a lengthy interview the previous day, i can't imagine Michael exposed any other new significant information.

from Hoynsie's afternoon cleveland.com article, Francona communicated to reporters that Encarnacion would look good hitting in the #4 spot, and he would look even better if Michael's right shoulder allowed him to fill the #3 spot ahead of Encarnacion. ever since the Indians agreed to a deal with Encarnacion on December 22, 2016, there has been quite a bit of conjecturing about where Michael will hit in the order if he's healthy enough to play. and i've seen many people calling for him to bat 5th BEHIND Encarnacion, which i didn't understand because if Michael is indeed healthy, then he's gonna get on base a lot. so why wouldn't you want Michael batting AHEAD of Encarnacion so Michael can score on all these home runs that Encarnacion is being presumed to hit?

after reading Hoynsie's piece, the skipper is apparently thinking like i am. BUT i know how fast things can change, and if Tito still wants Santana leading off again in 2017 with Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor behind him, then Michael won't be hitting 3rd. so i'm not getting my hopes up. with spring games starting in less than a month, i guess we'll find out the order soon enough.

if you need a refresher on any of Michael's updates since his biceps tenodesis surgery on August 15, 2016, including just what exactly that is, feel free to read some or all of these previously posted blogs:
Brantley To Have Season-Ending Right Shoulder Surgery
Brantley Undergoes Biceps Tenodesis, Recovery Will Take 4 Months
What Is Biceps Tenodesis?
Brantley's August 2016 Post-Surgery Interview
Brantley's September 2016 Sling Updates
Brantley's 2016 Postseason October Rehab Updates
Brantley News & Updates from November & December 2016

and remember to keep following me on twitter @clevelandgirl23 as i continue to post updates about Michael's hitting progressions. i probably have the most details about Michael's rehab on my twitter feed yet am the least followed, so PLEASE follow me and tell your friends to as well! likewise, i encourage readers to sign up for my subscription list. just enter your email address in the box underneath the Blog Archive sidebar on the upper right side of this page and you'll receive notifications when new blogs are published.

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