NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Craig Brazell hasn't exactly had the most direct career path in baseball, but he's certainly glad that it ran through Nashville in 2007.
Brazell was on hand at the Winter Meetings, held at the Opryland Hotel, to pick up his hardware and some well-earned cash as the Joe Bauman Round-Tripper Award Winner. The prize is given to the player each season who leads all of the Minor Leagues in home runs. In addition to the trophy, Brazell collected a check for $7,800, or $200 for each of the 39 home runs he hit during the 2007 season.
As a position player, a hitter, that's the award you want to win every year," Brazell said after the Minor League Awards Luncheon on Monday afternoon. "To lead every league, everybody in home runs and to be able to come up here to the Winter Meetings and accept this award, it's a great honor. It's something I've looked forward to since the end of the season when I found out that I ended up winning the home run title. I'm very excited about being here and looking forward to seeing if I can do it again."
Brazell had to begin the year back in Double-A with the Kansas City Royals because of a lack of room in Triple-A. Rather than hang his head about it, he made the most of the opportunity. The 27-year-old hit seven homers before getting a bump up to Triple-A Omaha and he wasted no time in getting acclimated there, hitting 13 homers in 22 May games and added nine more in June. At the All-Star break -- Brazell went on to capture the Triple-A All-Star Game Home Run Derby crown -- the first baseman had 30 home runs between Wichita and Omaha, allowing some to wonder about the possibility of someone hitting 50 homers in the Minors for the first time since 1982. Brazell slowed down, hitting just nine more long balls the rest of the year. His 39 was still enough to keep him ahead of Chris Davis -- who had 36 homers -- and the rest of the field.
"It definitely was a great feeling," Brazell said. "I started out in Double-A, where I've been in the past and had success there. There weren't any spots at the time. I took it not as a slap in the face, but as a building block. If something didn't go my way this year, I used it as a motivation to build on what I've done so far."
Brazell, who was signed by Kansas City as a free agent in December 2006 but is now without an employer, joins past Round-Tripper winners Kevin Witt (Durham, 2006), Brandon Wood (Rancho Cucamonga, 2005), Ryan Howard (Reading/Scranton-Wilkes/Barre, 2004), Graham Koonce (Sacramento, 2003) and Ivan Cruz (Memphis, 2002).
But to call him a home run hitter only wouldn't be doing justice to the complete season Brazell had in 2007. The left-handed hitter finished with a .315 average and .601 slugging percentage, thanks to 38 doubles. He also drove in 91 runs and his 171 hits placed him in a tie for third on the overall Minor League leader list in that category. He was rewarded with a September callup to Kansas City, his first taste of the big leagues since 2004.
"This year was very satisfying," Brazell said. "I've worked harder in the last couple of years than I have ever in my life. It was a fresh start for me this year, rebuilding my career. It kind of got my name back on the map again, where people realized that maybe he's not just a home run hitter, maybe he can do everything else. I think I proved that to a lot of people this year, by going out and playing every day, not just hitting home runs, but hitting for average, driving in runs and doing the little things that matter the most. It opened up some eyes and to finish up back in the big leagues was a big honor, there's no doubt about that."