You know about all of Cleveland's free agent signings this winter. You know about Cleveland's young core that they're going to be building around for the long haul. But what about the other players on the team that might not be part of either of those groups, but will play a huge role on the team in 2013?
My x-factor for the Cleveland Indians in 2013 is Michael Brantley.
Brantley is almost the forgotten man in the Indians outfield. Last year, it was all about Shin-Soo Choo, the neverending injury drama surrounding Grady Sizemore, and the Johnny Damon circus in left. Going into this season, all of the talk seems to revolve around the new faces in town: Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, and Drew Stubbs. But the 25-year old Brantley is coming off of a 2012 season where he had a .750 OPS and was worth 2.7 fWAR in center field for the Indians.
He'll shift to left this year after the signing of Bourn, where his defense will likely end up playing out a lot better than it did in center. Brantley, Bourn, and Stubbs will form one of the best defensive outfields in baseball, as all three guys played center (and played it pretty well) last year. Out of the three Indians outfielders, Brantley is the youngest, and perhaps the safest as well. Consider this: Stubbs has seen his offensive numbers go on the downswing after an awesome 2010 season, and Bourn is a 30-year old who relies on his speed who hit a brick wall in the second half of 2012.
Brantley isn't great, but he's still young and has steadily improved year by year. He'll turn 26 in May, and this is his chance to take a giant step forward. He cut his strikeout rate to under 10% in 2012, and walked nearly as much as he struck out. He doesn't possess great power, he's not particularly fleet of foot on the basepaths, but if he keeps progressing like he did last season, he could be a four-win player in the next season or two for Cleveland.