Brantley is carrying on the family legacy on the mound
Baseball bloodlines have become an integral part of the game.
The Alomars, the Ripkens, the Molinas. The Niekro knuckleball danced its way through generations. Ken Griffey Jr. once played alongside his father, solidifying one of baseball’s greatest father-son moments.
Baseball seems to be a genetic trait, and the Brantley family is no different.
Michael Brantley has taken the forefront of his family’s namesake, following his father Mickey, who spent four years in the big leagues with the Seattle Mariners. Michael, 27, is currently in his sixth year with the Cleveland Indians after a trade with his draft team, the Milwaukee Brewers, in 2008.
But there’s another Brantley emerging into the realm of professional baseball and he’s maintaining Michael’s allegiance to Cleveland.
Justin Brantley, Michael’s cousin, signed with the Cleveland Indians as a non-drafted free agent during the 2013-14 offseason. The 23-year-old New York native spent four years at Siena College, where he pitched as a starter for the Saints. Before he inked a contract with the Indians, Justin spent time working out in Florida with his uncle, Mickey, and some pitching coaches before the Indians, Baltimore Orioles and Cincinnati Reds all expressed interest in him.
Justin said his choice was easy. His cousin has given him guidance from the start, so choosing the Indians was an obvious fit.
“He [Michael] gave me a little advice as what to expect, how to go about things, what he saw people get in trouble for, things like that,” Justin said. “He’s always there for any questions that I have.”
During spring training, Michael was just on the other side of the Arizona locker room to give Justin advice. Now, the two are in nearly the same town as Justin has been assigned to the low-A Lake County Captains, just 20 minutes east of Cleveland.
Justin started the season in extended spring training to work on some changes in his pitching mechanics. He said he had tinkered with them in January and made further changes in spring training, including a change in his arm slot. Justin said he used to throw from a raised slot but the organization has since dropped his arm to more of a natural three-fourths slot.
The organization also modified Justin's pitch repertoire. His former slider was more of a slurve and his change-up was converted from a two-seamer to a four-seamer.
So far, the alterations have worked in Justin’s favor. Since joining the Captains June 9, the right-hander has posted a 0.84 ERA and 8:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 10.2 innings of relief.
As Justin adjusts to different pitches and mechanics, he’s also growing acclimated to life as a pro. “It’s definitely a learning experience,” he said.
One thing Justin said he’s learned is the amount of dedication required of a pro. In college, schoolwork was an additional priority. Now, it’s all about baseball.
“Playing everyday, it’s easy to take a day off which you really can’t do, especially at the lower levels,” Justin explained. “That’s how you get to the higher levels, you’ve just got to push forward.”
One of the most notorious aspects of playing in the minor leagues is the infamous grind. Long days at the field followed by long bus trips to foreign cities far from home can run a toll on anyone. Enduring the taxing schedule is as simple as remembering his purpose for playing, Justin said. His cousin, however, adds a little extra motivation.
“Knowing he’s up there checking my stats every day kind of makes me want to push everything a little bit harder,” Justin noted.
Justin said he and Michael talk about once per week through calls and text messages. Justin is grateful his cousin is closeby to lend a helping hand and words of wisdom, but some things he’ll have to learn on his own accord. As the Captains seek a second-half playoff spot, Justin said his biggest overall goal for the season is to simply help the team win, just as Michael is doing in Cleveland.
Justin may have a few stages to conquer before he reaches the big league level, but his genetics seem to be working in his favor. Mickey and Michael made their way to the top, and Justin is making the most of his opportunity to carry on the family’s legacy from the mound.
Stephanie is a crime and general assignment reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio. She’s an alumna of Cleveland State University with a degree in Journalism and Promotional Communication. You can follow her on Twitter @7thInningSteph.