Jordan Brown is finally getting a chance in Cleveland, a full year after some felt he was ready. The Tribe’s fourth-round pick in 2005, the left-handed-hitting Brown has been a force in the minor leagues, capturing league MVP awards in 2006 and 2007 and a Triple-A batting title in 2009. A product of the University of Arizona, the 26-year-old outfielder hit .336/.381/.532 for Columbus last year and was at .306/.344/.474 this season prior to his August 1 call-up. Brown talked about his career path, and arrival in The Show, prior to taking the field at Fenway Park for his fourth big-league game.
David Laurila: This is your sixth season in pro ball. How would you describe your career thus far?
Jordan Brown: In one word, I guess I would say “tedious.” I do my best to go out there every day and continue my routine and make sure that I’m trying to get better and not just working at things I’m already good at. I’ve worked hard on my weaknesses so that I can get on that main stage.
DL: Now that you’re finally here, is there a feeling of “it’s about time?”
JB: Yes and no. I understand why it took awhile. In some cases, hitting isn’t necessarily the only thing that gets you to the big leagues. You have to work hard on the defensive aspect, become a better baserunner, hit off-speed better—those are the things that I’ve needed to improve on. Of course, for any player it would be human to say “it’s about time,” because every player has to have some kind of ego, or it’s going to be tough to succeed at this game. So in a sense yes, and in a sense no.
DL: Were there specific benchmarks the organization was looking for you to reach in order to earn a call up?
JB: They weren’t exactly statistical benchmarks. There were things to improve upon, like driving in runs, hitting with runners in scoring position, drawing walks, cutting down strikeouts, just having better overall at-bats. That was the main goal as far as what I wanted to improve on offensively. Defensively it was better routes in the outfield and getting my feet wet since I had to change positions.
DL: When, and from whom, have most of those expectations been communicated to you?
JB: It comes a lot during spring training. I’ve had a lot of conversations with the front office and our director of minor-league development, Ross Atkins, on what I need to improve on. It’s something that you don’t want to harp on, but you need to know the truth. What do you need to do? Through those conversations I’ve been able to form an idea, or formula, of what is going to help me become a better big-leaguer.
DL: How much do players typically communicate with the organization on such issues?
JB: It depends. A lot of guys are pretty low maintenance and some guys need a little more conversation. Some guys need a better idea of what they need to do. In my case, I was curious. I asked a lot of questions, because I wanted to know what I needed to do; I wanted to be very clear about: If I do X, Y, and Z, this will help me to become a successful big-leaguer.
DL: A lot of people felt that Travis Hafner’s arrival in the big leagues was overdue. Were you ready prior to last week?
JB: It depends on just when you’re asking me. I think that last year I could have come up and gotten some hits, but before that, in no way was I ready.
DL: You had a knee injury in 2008. How much did it impact your performance?
JB: I never used that as a crutch to say, “This is why my numbers suffered a bit.” To tell you the truth, I just wasn’t ready. I think that Double-A to Triple-A is a bigger jump. Guys can command their stuff a little more. Yeah, the injuries didn’t help, but you can point to a lot of things that didn’t help. I don’t make excuses for [the lack of] production. My knee was healthy for the majority of the year.
DL: That said, what exactly was the injury?
JB: In 2007, my second full year in pro ball, the last two months I needed surgery on my knee so I just DHed, which was tough. DHing is tough. I needed my knee scoped, so I was on heavy pain meds and once the season was the over I had surgery. But I played daily. Anyway, I came back too early, because I had never really dealt with rehab or with any kind of surgery like that. I developed tendonitis and it flared up about a month or two into the season. I missed a little over a month. It was annoying and a pain in the butt, but it certainly wasn’t the reason that my numbers suffered. It was more because I was terrible against lefties and I tried to pull the ball nonstop. My plan was terrible.
It’s funny, because sometimes I hear things about that. Other people are making excuses for me and I don’t know whether to be flattered or to say, “Hey, you’re wrong.” Again, I wasn’t ready. And my numbers weren’t terrible; they just weren’t what I was used to doing.
DL: What is the biggest difference in your game from 2008 to today?
JB: Calming myself down, to tell you the truth. I was so amped up and had too much anxiety to relax, so I didn’t have consistent, good at-bats. I think that I’ve learned over the last couple of years to do that.
DL: That’s a funny thing to be hearing from someone who had already won a pair of league MVP awards.
JB: Yes, but sometimes it depends on how you’re putting up those good numbers. Is everything falling or are you consistently lining out and still putting up good numbers? Are you having better at-bats? [After 2008] I was hitting a lot of balls hard, right at people, and I was also getting hits, so I think my at-bats were better, because I was calmer at the plate.
DL: In which ways has a calmer demeanor changed your game?
JB: I wouldn’t say that it has morphed into something that it’s never been, but I think it has definitely gotten to a point where I’m just more comfortable within what I can do. I know what I can do and I know what I can’t do. My barrel-to-the-ball ratio is a lot better now, so I think that I’ve done a better job with that, too.
DL: You won the International League batting title last year. Has that been your best season so far?
JB: Yes. Last year I had the luxury to work with [current Indians hitting coach and 2009 Columbus Clippers hitting coach] Jon Nunnally the whole year and I figured a lot of things out with my swing, like driving the ball to all fields and staying consistent and having a good approach. I didn’t really take too many at-bats off; I didn’t give away a lot of at-bats. That would be why I’d say it was my best year.
Working with Jon has been big. Don’t get me wrong, we have great hitting minds in our organization, but Jon has this passion and this undeniable positivity that even if you’re going wrong, there’s no such thing as a negative word or a negative phrase. That helps you believe and it helps give him more credibility when he talks about his own career and what he did and didn’t do. He helped me a lot as far as bat path and staying consistent with what I wanted to do against certain guys.
DL: What type of hitter do you consider yourself?
JB: A line-drive hitter. My home runs are by accident. I can’t try to hit homers, they’re just accidental. I definitely can hit them, though. The more and more that I calm down and relax, and get back to what I’m supposed to be doing… it’s the same thing; the same thing I did in Triple-A is what I need to do here.
DL: Just how much has defense factored into your career path?
JB: I would say that it has been a large factor. I’ve worked really hard in the outfield to become comfortable, and at first base. It just so happens that I’m getting my start [in the big leagues] as a DH, in my first couple of games. So I think it’s huge, but I think they feel comfortable that I can go out there and make routine plays and do the job out there.
It’s all about experience and taking it seriously. I hate to admit it, but I would go out there and work on my swing, but I wouldn’t work defensively. I’d just do my best to make sure that my swing was good and otherwise just kind of mess around, but now I go out there with a purpose and have a routine on both sides of the coin.
DL: Once it finally came, what was the call up like?
JB: It was very exciting. I had a lot of anxiety; my head was just spinning around in so many different ways, but I was really excited with everything. So was my family. My wife was extremely happy and my mom cried a little bit. This is my career, and I do my best to perform on this stage, and I don’t know if everybody out there realizes it, but this means a lot. Right now I’m at Fenway Park, and to be here holding my son after a game, and taking photos with him and having my wife and my mom be here for my debut, is something that I’ll never forget.
DL: What did your first big-league game feel like?
JB: I was in Toronto and everything was just a blur. I had been waiting for this for so long, so it was almost like I was up there but I wasn’t. I was facing [Jesse] Litsch, who I had faced once in Double-A, so I didn’t really know a lot about him. But it didn’t really matter who was there, because I was just excited/anxious/“I have to hit a homer here”—things that shouldn’t be in your mind when you’re trying to relax, because there’s no way you can hit when you’re not relaxed.
After that game we came here to Boston, which is one of the most fabled places in baseball, one of the most historic places. You hear so much about it when you’re growing up playing baseball, so it’s a place you want to play, and now you’re here. It was very surreal to get a chance to do that. We’re facing quality arms here—guys I love to watch—so it’s tough to get a grip on yourself, and pinch yourself, and relax and be you. Everyone always says, "Be you” and “Do what you did that got you here,” and I think that’s the hurdle I’ll need to get over, and sooner rather than later. I’m feeling better day by day on that, just feeling more like myself.
DL: Your first hit was a double off of John Lackey. What do you remember thinking when you were standing on second base?
JB: Extreme relief. I was happy, I was excited and I was relieved. To do it in Fenway and against a great pitcher like John Lackey, it was something I’ll never forget. It was also something that helped me to relax a little more. That night, I felt that my at-bats were good. Of my first three nights, that was the only one where I walked away from the yard feeling happy with my at-bats. It made feel like I was ready to hit at this level.
Jon Nunnally on Brown: All the way through the minor leagues, he’s done a lot of things quality-wise. He’s won batting titles. The kid gets in a position to hit and uses his hands really, really well. He’s been pretty solid; I just wanted to make sure that he got a little more solid driving the ball the other way—really actually using the whole field to drive the ball the other way, to play the ball the other way. He can drive the ball to the pull side, so the last few years he’s really been working to drive the ball into the left-center field gap. One thing that I know is that the kid has been down in the minor leagues for a while now and I feel that he’s ready to go. He’s ready to make his strides in the major leagues.