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Brown has eye on even bigger prize

Brown has eye on even bigger prize

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- When the Carolina and Eastern Leagues each handed Jordan Brown an MVP trophy over the last two seasons, they were essentially restating the obvious.

A look at Brown's numbers from 2006 (.290 average, 15 homers, 26 doubles, 87 RBIs at Class A Kinston) and '07 (.333, 11 homers, 36 doubles, 76 RBIs at Double-A Akron) is all it takes to know the Indians' first base prospect was doing something right.

"You really don't need an award to know you had a good season," Brown said. "Don't get me wrong, I love 'em. Anyone who says they don't is full of it. But awards will come if you perform well."

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Of course, having been an MVP the last two years, Brown is automatically under pressure to perform well enough this season to capture the International League honor at Triple-A Buffalo.

"I've heard 'Vegas odds' and stuff like that," he said with a smile. "I'd love to do it, but as long as I can be a good teammate and improve my game and take myself to another level, I'll be happy."

Brown did take his game to another level in '07. He bumped his walk total up from 51 to 63 and his on-base percentage from .362 to .421. He led all of Double-A baseball in batting average and finished fourth in the Eastern League in doubles and fifth in runs scored (85).

And, oh yeah, he did it with a bum knee that hampered his swing in the season's second half.

Doctors found a buildup of scar tissue and bone spurs in Brown's left knee. He had surgery performed on it in late September, and the recovery from that surgery had him a bit behind this spring in his first big league camp.

The 24-year-old Brown made his first start of the Grapefruit League season Thursday against the Astros, batting ninth as the designated hitter.

How much did the knee bother him last season?

"It bothered me a lot," he said. "There were a lot of balls I couldn't really drive. The backspin really wasn't there the last couple months because of the pain in my knee."

The knee also bothered Brown on the basepaths. Given the green light for the first time in his career, he quickly racked up 11 stolen bases, only to finish with 13.

Imagine, then, what the left-handed Brown might be able to accomplish with two good knees.

The Indians are enamored with the possibilities.

"We would feel comfortable," farm director Ross Atkins said, "calling him a Major League quality bat."

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Defensively, Brown still has to get more comfortable around the bag, especially when it comes to reading the ball off the bat. Past plans to have him play in the outfield have been scrapped, though he did spend most of the '06 season out there.

"People called me 'Never a Doubt Brown,'" he joked, "because I'd look terrible and still come up with the ball."

The Tribe had enough doubts about Brown's outfield play to put him back at first, even though a big league log jam exists at the position.

Blocked by Ryan Garko, Brown knows he will have a hard time breaking into the big leagues. Yet Brown, who played three years at the University of Arizona, remains a fan of Garko, his former Pac-10 opponent.

"I can't root against the guy," Brown said. "He's a good dude, and he helps the ballclub win. I have to treat it like, 'You do your thing, I'll do my thing and eventually we'll cross paths or be teammates.' Either that, or I'm going to be a left-handed catcher pretty soon."

It is a real catcher, Victor Martinez, who last blazed the path Brown is on. Martinez, you see, was the last Indians player to win the Carolina and Eastern League MVP trophies in consecutive seasons ('01 and '02).

But Brown might be most comparable to former Tribe first baseman Sean Casey, who has long been known for his ability to work counts and fight off tough pitches.

"A lot of times people give themselves up early in counts," Brown said, "whereas there might be a pitch you can drive later in the count. If you give up that pitch you can put in play [in a] 0-0 [count] or 1-0, there might be a pitch later in the count that you can drive."

As good as his '07 season was, Brown still estimated that he "gave up" 50 or 60 of his 483 at-bats.

"If I make the guy work, I'm satisfied with the at-bat," he said. "The only time you'll see me get mad is if I'm not focused."

When the Indians inevitably send Brown, a non-roster invitee to camp, back to the Minors this month, he won't be mad about that, either.

"Some people say the Minor Leagues is a punishment," he said, "but I think it's a privilege, because you get to learn. You get to learn your swing and your zone."

Spoken like a true MVP.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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