Michael, Justin Brantley grow closer as younger cousin works way through Tribe system
Lake County Captains reliever Justin Brantley had a doctor in the stands during his outing on Monday, and it wasn’t because he was injured.
Justin’s cousin and Tribe outfielder Michael Brantley spent his day off at Classic Park, watching the Indians minor leaguer compete. Dr. Smooth was not so much there to coach his cousin as he was to cheer him on as a fan.
“I’m kind of almost watching a younger brother play,” Michael, 27, said. “Watching his development from just a year ago or two and how well he’s doing now and how successful he is now — it’s like watching your younger brother develop.
“He looked great out there, very composed. His mechanics were fluid; he wasn’t overthrowing the ball. He’s a competitor. I get excited when I watch him pitch.”
The two boys grew up in different cities — Michael in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and Justin in Hudson, N.Y. — but they still managed to spend a lot of time together at the ballpark. Michael’s father, Mickey, played for the Seattle Mariners and eventually served as the Toronto Blue Jays hitting coach.
Once Justin, 23, was old enough to visit his uncle, he frequently traveled to Toronto to experience the big leagues with his relatives. Roy Halladay and Pedro Martinez, he said, were a couple guys who made an impression at that age.
“One of the best memories of my life was when [Mickey Brantley] was the batting coach for the Toronto Blue Jays. I was probably 10, and I would go up there and spend a couple series up there with my family,” Justin said. “That was the first time actually being on the field for an extended period of time. There, I got all-access for everything; BP, driving with him to the stadium, locker room, meeting everybody. That’s something I will never ever forget.”
Justin, whose father was really into basketball, grew up playing shortstop. It wasn’t until his junior year of high school that he grew four inches and developed his 5’11”, 170-pound figure.
Fast forward roughly 10 years, and it is Justin and Michael whose careers are progressing at Classic Park and Progressive Field, respectively. If the guys are unable to follow each other closely because of conflicting schedules, they make sure to keep in touch.
“He leaves me a text or a phone call at least once a week, just making sure everything’s OK,” Justin said. “If I ever need anything — absolutely anything — he is a text away.”
Justin listed multiple advantages of having a cousin playing at the Major League level — not to mention just 30 minutes away.
“Going into this, I had absolutely no idea what to expect,” Justin said. “He told me, ‘Listen, obviously you have to prove yourself. You’ll be able to tell there are people who aren’t working hard enough and they should. You’ve always got to go there every day and keep getting better every single day. It’s very easy here to take a day off because it’s a grind.’
“I didn’t realize that; I’m still blown away by the whole situation. He just made sure to tell me that you can’t take any days off.”
Justin does understand, however, that establishing himself within the same organization as his All-Star cousin comes with a lot of pressure and a name inevitably tagged with high expectations. The undrafted free-agent only uses that as motivation.
“I still have to prove to everybody. I was very late, very inconsistent in college. Every scout that I’ve talked to said, ‘I can’t believe you never got a chance.’ They all say the same thing, but you can’t trust what they say,” Justin said. “I just wanted an opportunity to get professional coaching and see [how] I could progress. I’ve learned an unbelievable amount since I’ve gotten here.
“I knew signing, when I picked the Indians, [the organization] might be giving me a chance because [Michael] was there. My performance on the field should show and should eliminate that if I do what I should do.”
Justin has undoubtedly quieted the critics and performed well so far this season. Through 21 games (37.0 innings), the right-hander has gone 4-0 with 2 saves and an ERA of 1.46. He has struck out 42, while allowing just 6 earned runs.
Similarly, Michael has had a career season in Cleveland, hitting .314 with a career-high 18 home runs, 78 runs scored and 80 RBI on the season. The outfielder, who has 11 assists, was selected as an American League All-Star back in July.
“He doesn’t really strike out very much, but I’m going to say [I can] strike him out, obviously,” Justin said. “He’s shown he can do a lot of things now. [Velocity] doesn’t bother him, whatsoever. He recognizes spin; he thinks he is underrated as far as recognizing spin.”
“He can strike me out?” Michael questioned, laughing. “I don’t know, I’ve seen every pitch he has. I played catch with him in the offseason; I watched all his mound mechanics, so I know how he does it.”
Outside of baseball, both guys share the same competitive spirit and drive.
“A couple days in the offseason working out with him, we competed,” Justin said. “We worked out and would do ‘HORSE’ in the gym like a pre-game warmup. We would do a power game, so you’re sweating kind of like speed ‘HORSE.’ You run and get the ball and shoot, and it’s very, very fast.
“He beat me a good amount, but like I told him, I won the last couple games we played, so until next year I got the belt.”
And if you ask either Brantley about who is the better fisherman, they will politely disagree with each other.
“Tell him I’m a better fisherman than he is,” Justin said.
“That is completely false,” Michael said. “I showed him the ropes this offseason. He came down there and we worked out and went fishing in the afternoons. My total is a little higher than his.”
While Cleveland fans should be optimistic that one day both Brantleys might be sharing a dugout at Progressive Field, Justin is sure he will always have Michael on his side of the fence.
“He would give me the shirt off his back if I needed it,” Justin said. “Him and his father are the same way — and the entire family, for that matter. If we ever are in a problem or any situation where we needed help, he’s legitimately a text away and will do whatever he physically can to help.”
–Megan Golden, TribeVibe contributor