Know Your Prospects: Jordan Brown, OF/1B, Cleveland Indians
And he's sad, sad Jordan Brown,
He's the saddest slugger in the whole damn town.
He's better than a minor league star,
But with the Indians he won't go far.
-From Jim Croce's unreleased Jordan Brown.
The Cleveland Indians' hard-hitting, lefthanded first baseman/outfielder Jordan Brown is major league ready.
But from the Cleveland Indians' treatment of him, one would think otherwise.
Through four full professional seasons, Brown has excelled at every level: in 2006 he captured the high Class A Carolina League's Most Valuable Player award, in 2007 the Double-A Eastern League's Most Valuable Player award, and in 2009 the Triple-A International League's batting championship.
Still, Brown has yet to receive even a September call up to the big league club.
Yesterday, Brown's contract was purchased by the Indians, effectively protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft and thus ensuring he will be in the Cleveland system in 2010. And since Brown is blocked at all of his natural positions by prospects and established stars higher in Cleveland's depth chart, it would appear that he's destined for another year of toiling in Triple A.
While it's always nice to have a job, the cliched "change of scenery" was Brown's best chance at cracking a major league roster.
A University of Arizona product, Brown was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the fourth round of the 2005 amateur draft. Scouts liked his aggressive approach at the plate and fluid, compact swing from the left side. He wore out the gaps, possessed good pop, and showed average speed on the basepaths. His defense was suspect, so the Indians drafted him at first base instead of his natural position in left field.
After a run in the New York-Penn League, the Indians sent the 22-year-old Brown to the Carolina League's Kinston Indians in 2006.
Brown's first professional campaign was a tremendous success. He led the Carolina League with 87 RBI and notched 15 home runs and 71 runs in 125 games. His .290 average wasn't eye-opening, but Brown showed patience and a natural ability to work the strikezone, earning 51 base-on-balls in 473 official at-bats, enough for a .362 on-base percentage.
He earned the league's Most Valuable Player award and was promoted to Double-A Akron to start 2007.
Brown's statistics improved across the board at Akron. His average jumped 43 points to .333, a mark that secured the league's batting title. His on-base percentage went from .362 to .421. His walks went up, his strikeouts down. His slugging percentage boosted nearly 20 ticks.
Once again, Brown earned the league's Most Valuable Player award. The consecutive MVP seasons put him in the elite company of just one other player: the Indian's three-time All Star catcher Victor Martinez accomplished the feat in 2001-02.
Brown's stock took a major hit in 2008. Making the jump to Triple-A with the International League's Buffalo Bisons, Brown saw his production drop significantly against tougher competition.
For the fist time in his professional career, Brown didn't reach double digits in home runs, didn't knock in more than 75 RBI or score more than 70 runs. The great patience he showed at the plate disappeared and scouts openly wondered if he was pressing to hit home runs to impress the front office.
Around this time, Brown's defense also became a major cause of contention. One half of those following Brown's career saw him as a sluggish first baseman/left fielder with a poor arm and bad instincts; the other saw a hard-worker that had become a good first baseman , able to move deftly around the bag and make adjustments.
As a result of his 2008 stumble, Brown returned to Triple-A in 2009 with the newly affiliated Columbus Clippers. He stopped pressing and compiled his most impressive campaign to date, finishing atop the league in batting average with a .336 clip. His natural power returned and he hit 15 home runs to go along with 35 doubles.
A September call up seemed imminent on a floundering Cleveland team. It seemed a given.
On September 8, 2009, the Cleveland Indians made their last call up of the season. It wasn't International League batting champion Jordan Brown though, but utility infielder Niuman Romero.
To many, the snub signified the end of Brown's tenure in Cleveland.
Brown is blocked for the foreseeable future by an abundance of prospects higher in Cleveland's depth chart. Top 10 prospects Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, and the promising Nick Weglarz almost guarantee that Brown does not have a future at his natural positions of first base or the corner outfield spots. Designated hitter Travis Hafner has the role locked up until 2011 after signing a four-year contract extension in 2007.
With the front office wary of Brown's defense, he figures to be the odd man out in a deep Cleveland system, an assumption clarified by former-manager Eric Wedge :
"[Brown] had a great year this year. It's tough to find a position for him right now defensively. With Hafner being our DH this year and moving forward, that's where the pick gets tough for us."
Brown has not posted a fielding percentage below .989 at any position he has played at significantly (more than 40 games), meaning that some of the speculation regarding his defense could be based on his horrendous play during a short stint in rightfield during 2009 and an error-laden campaign at first base in 2008.
If Ultimate Zone Ratings were available for Brown, they would almost certainly reveal an average to below-average fielder with little range, justifying the criticism. Still, Matt LaPorta is far from a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman, making Brown's future with the team even more murky and curious.
It's entirely fair to say that the Indians may not know what their plans are with Brown. They could be holding onto him simply because he's too good to give away without a return or to lose in the Rule 5 Draft.
Brown has voiced his disappointed about not being called up in 2009, stating he didn't expect for the Indians to purchase his contract in 2009.
But that's exactly what happened.
Sad, sad, Jordan Brown.
This article can originally be found at Blogging About Baseball.
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