Probably my biggest pet peeve in baseball is when players are given the Quad-A designation: they are deemed not worthy of the majors for no tangible reason when all statistical indicators predict success there.
I fleshed this idea out in one of my first B/R articles way back in early 2008.
I thought it would be a neat idea to look at some deserving Quad-A guys before the start of 2010, and analyze their chances of breaking into the majors this year.
First up is Indians first baseman/left fielder Jordan Brown.
Brown, 26, was a 2005 fourth-round pick from the University of Arizona with a reputation for being a solid lefty hitter with average power and good glovework at first base.
Being a college draftee, Brown needed to advance in a hurry to avoid being far older than others at his level, so he was rushed to High-A Kinston to open 2006 after just 19 pro games.
He hit .290/.362/.469 in a full season there. That's good-not-great for a 22-year-old first baseman/left fielder on the surface, but it's made more impressive when one considers that Kinston is one of the worst hitter's parks in baseball.
Promoted to Double-A Akron to open 2007, Brown continued to rip singles and doubles all over the field, putting up a .333/.421/.484 line. Interestingly, he was made to stay at the level the entire season for the second straight year despite excellent production.
Brown had something of a misstep in his Triple-A debut in 2008, batting .281/.337/.417. A 24-year-old Triple-A first baseman who hits like a second baseman doesn't exactly come across as a valuable commodity. Still, even the greatest of players can have off years, and 2008 proved to be an exception rather than a rule.
Repeating the International League, Brown became arguably the league's top hitter, pounding the ball at a .333/.381/.532 clip in 2009. He did not get a call to Cleveland and has never played at the major league level.
So what negative qualities (if any) could have gotten a player who has hit .333 in two of the past three years the "Quad-A" tag?
Well, first, he's a first baseman/left fielder, where a player has to hit with authority to succeed. Former Cleveland first baseman Ryan Garko, a solid hitter himself, is having difficulty even landing a job this winter, as is Russell Branyan, another former Indian who had a career year in 2009.
Brown doesn't fit the "first baseman slugger" stereotype. He's never topped 15 homers in a pro season, and has only hit 22 in two full years in Triple-A. His defense at first is average, and he's below-average in the outfield corners. His body type doesn't really scream "athletic."
That said, Brown should be in the major leagues.
If Ross Gload, coming off a career year of .261/.329/.400, can sign a $2.5 million contract with the Phillies, Jordan Brown is sure worth a big league roster spot.
It's worth noting that he posted a career-high .199 Isolated Power last year, a sign that he may finally be flashing 20-HR pop. He probably wouldn't top 25 homers in a 162-game season, but there's no reason Brown couldn't hit .280-.300 with 12-24 homers.
Sure, he's got below-average power for a first baseman or left fielder, but he also makes more contact; he's never struck out more than 67 times in a minor league season, and likely wouldn't strike out any more than 100 times in the majors, allowing him to get more singles and doubles than players like Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder.
In my opinion, Jordan Brown could be a .290/.345/.440 major league hitter this season. Combined with average defense at first, that makes him a left-handed version of Jorge Cantu (circa 2009).
In 2009, Cantu was worth $3.5 million, according to Fangraphs' data. Given that Brown would make the $400,000 minimum next year if on the big league roster, that's a pretty handy return on investment for Cleveland.
Will he get the chance? That depends on what the Indians do with Matt LaPorta. They could stick LaPorta in left, Grady Sizemore in center, and Shin-Soo Choo in right, leaving first open for Brown or Andy Marte, a battle Brown could easily win (at the very least, he and Marte could platoon; Brown hit .346/.387/.552 vs. RHPs last year).
If LaPorta slots in at first, however, that would put Brown in a three-way battle with Michael Brantley and Trevor Crowe for the left field spot. DH at-bats won't be available unless Travis Hafner goes down; he basically has to play given his massive contract.
Basically, if LaPorta plays left or Hafner gets hurt, Brown has a high probability of getting his chance, but if neither happens, he's a longshot to be in the majors before September, and he'll need to keep mashing AAA pitching to get a shot even then. At 26, he can't afford the slightest misstep.
Still, it'd be a shame if a rebuilding Cleveland team didn't give Brown the shot he's earned.