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Posted on January 28, 2017 by Bryan Zarpentine

Cleveland Indians Michael Brantley

Image via Cleveland.com

While playing in the World Series last year, the Cleveland Indians were missing a few key players. Aside from Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco missing from the starting rotation, the Indians were without left fielder Michael Brantley, who would have been one of the team’s best hitters if not for a shoulder injury that sidelined him for most of 2016. But Brantley says he’s recovering from the surgery he underwent in August and is actually ahead of schedule in his rehab and ready to help the Indians get back to the World Series in 2017.

Brantley spent most of the winter in Cleveland rehabbing before traveling to Arizona two weeks ago to get a jumpstart on spring training. He’s been working with Indians assistant hitting coach Matt Quatraro and is taking close to 100 swings per day. So far, Brantley says his shoulder is responding well, making him more optimistic than he was a year ago when he entered spring training coming off shoulder surgery the previous November.

“I feel better than I did a year ago,” Brantley told reporters earlier this week. “I’m happy where I’m at. I still understand that there are hurdles in the process and I look forward to tackling them.” He declined to put a specific date on his return, only that he will keep following the scheduled steps in his rehab and looks forward to the day when he’s back on the field.

“I want to play everyday,” said Brantley. “That’s my whole goal. I love playing defense and I love being out there with my teammates. I want to hit the ground running. That’s the whole reason I stayed in Cleveland this offseason and trained with the great trainers that we have. So when that time comes, there will be no problems.”

Coming off shoulder surgery at the start of last season, Brantley returned from the DL on April 25, but lasted just 11 games before the pain forced a return to the DL. After multiple setbacks, Brantley was unable to return to his club last year. The Indians believe they can avoid a similar situation with Brantley this season.

“Last year, I think it was wishful thinking that he was going to be ready to go,” said Quatraro. “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.”

Before the problems with his shoulder, Brantley was one of the best left fielders in baseball. He won the Silver Slugger Award in 2014 and followed that up with a stellar 2015 season, and so the Indians are excited to add him back to the lineup, in addition to the signing of Edwin Encarnacion earlier this winter.

“You’re talking about the most productive hitter in the game,” Indians manager Terry Francona said about Encarnacion. “You can sit him in that No.4 hole, most likely, and let him go. He gives you an anchor in the middle of the lineup and then if Brantley is OK – that’s two really good hitters.”

The Indians have Brandon Guyer and Abraham Almonte as candidates to play left field if Brantley has a set back. Cleveland has also signed Austin Jackson to a minor league deal, providing another option just in case Brantley doesn’t return as expected. However, he and the Indians remain cautiously optimistic that his shoulder problems are a thing of the past. If Brantley is healthy in 2017, he’s a potential game-changer for the Indians, a team that’s already one of the favorites in the American League.