'Team-first' Brantley practicing first base for Astros

February 20th, 2023

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- One of the most interesting sights on the back fields of Ballpark of the Palm Beaches early at camp has been veteran outfielder Michael Brantley taking ground balls at first base. It’s not uncommon for players at other positions to take grounders on the infield, but the Astros are interested to see if Brantley is a viable option to play some first base in a pinch.

The Astros, of course, signed free-agent first baseman José Abreu to play that position this year, but there could be a scenario where Brantley gets some time at first against a tough right-hander when Abreu is out of the lineup. Brantley did play some first base in the Minor Leagues in 2007.

“We’ll see how it goes,” Brantley said. “At the same time, it’s a team-first approach always. I’ve always been like that. If I can help the team out in any way, I’ll be available. It’s a lot of hard work. I’m learning a lot very quickly, but it’s all been going smoothly so far.”

Brantley worked out at first base Sunday with first-base coach Omar López, working on his footwork and throwing to bases. Astros manager Dusty Baker downplayed Brantley as a possibility at first but said it would give him another option at the position. Depending on who makes the roster, utility infielder David Hensley can also play first base, as well as J.J. Matijevic.

“I’m just trying to learn and do the best of my ability and get the footwork down, make accurate throws, find new arm slots,” Brantley said. “It’s an adjustment period, but it’s kind of fun. I always enjoy taking ground balls. I get to do it a little more often.”

Brantley, who signed a one-year, $12 million deal to return for a fifth season in Houston, missed the second half of last year and the Astros' World Series run after undergoing right shoulder surgery in August. He won’t be able to participate when Grapefruit League play starts Saturday, but said he’s throwing without restrictions and hopes to take live batting practice soon.

“Like everybody else, I’ve been hitting in the tunnels,” he said. “Everything is going well. I kind of like where my swing’s at right now. I think I’m too ahead of schedule with my swing, but I feel good where it is. Now we’re just making adjustments of timing and contact points. It’s all been good, all trending in the right direction.”