The dust has settled on the 2020 season, and if there was one consistent theme for the Astros this year (other than injuries), it was the strong performance of the club’s rookie arms. Cristian Javier was a rotation fixture for the club for much of the season and earned a third place nod for rookie of the year, and the club got further contributions from young guns like Luis Garcia and second year hurler Framber Valdez that helped fuel them through a deep playoff run. The Astros’ pitching pipeline has become part of their organizational identity at this point, and heading in 2021, there are more reinforcements potentially on the way.
There isn’t a pitcher on the farm at present that’s quite as major league ready as Javier was entering 2020, so it might be a bit of a pipe dream to expect anybody to replicate his success in 2021, but there is an arm from their 2019 class that I have been monitoring closely and have marked as a potential riser in the system for 2021, right handed starter Hunter Brown. Rising in rankings is familiar to Brown- he was a nondescript prep prospect who played his college ball in D-II at Wayne State, and in his brief time there he was able to pitch his way from off the radar into mid day 2 consideration, eventually becoming the Astros’ 5th round pick.
When watching Brown work, his physicality immediately stands out. He has a lanky 6’2” frame with a very strong lower half that he utilizes very effectively with a long stride and lots of leg drive. His arm speed is also above average, and he’s able to generate a lot of power on the back of those traits. He pitches from a high 3⁄4 slot, and his delivery has a downhill quality to it. His arm circle is relatively long, but the motion is consistent and not especially violent, so it’s more of a concern for his command than it is his health.
Brown’s stuff profile, like his frame, is very startery. He very much pitches off of his fastball, which ranges between 92-96 MPH. He’s able to command the pitch to both sides of the plate effectively, and it has an explosive quality out of his hand. In addition to the heat, Brown is also capable of fooling hitters with his tight slider, which has late, two-plane movement and tunnels well off of the fastball. While we haven’t seen it as much in game action, Brown’s curveball has also gotten some accolades. Astros Assistant GM Pete Putila recently told Jim Callis that Brown has “a Tyler Glasnow-type curveball.” While video of Brown is still limited given his background and the 2020 cancellation, that is obviously very high praise and it’ll be worth keeping your eyes peeled for the pitch next time Brown is on film. There’s also a changeup in his profile that shows potential, but it’s a tertiary weapon that currently lags behind the breaking balls. There’s little need to play with Brown’s arsenal, as his fastball/slider can be a reliable 1-2 punch for him all the way to the big leagues. As he works towards that goal, his developmental plan will be focused on his changeup and improving his command.
If there’s a 2021 MiLB season, expect Brown to start it with Fayetteville. He’ll pitch in mostly 3 and 4 inning stints until he gets to the upper minors, which could be late in 2021 with strong results. While he doesn’t project for the kind of impact command that is required of a true frontline starter, there’s enough in the package here for the Astros to have another #3-4 type starter at their disposal as soon as late 2022, which is a hell of a result for a 5th-round selection, no matter the year. For my money, he has a good case to enter the year as the #2 pitching prospect in the system, and will be one of my most watched names whenever minor league baseball gets back underway.