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What To Watch For In Hunter Brown’s Major League Debut

MLB: All Star-Futures Game Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

If it weren’t for the Astros depth in the starting rotation, their top pitching prospect Hunter Brown surely would’ve made his major league debut long before this evening against the Rangers. In fact, he’d probably been promoted months ago if he was rostered by one of the 29 other clubs. Thanks to the active roster expanding in September, he finally has a chance to showcase his talents on the biggest stage of his profession.

With one of the more dynamic arms in the minors, Brown’s numbers this season — 2.55 ERA and a 31.5 percent strikeout rate in 106 innings — have further justified his top prospect billing. His swing-and-miss potential appeals to many, especially in shorter appearances. Developed as a starter, the lack of an immediate opening likely forces Brown into a relief role if he is included on the postseason roster. As such, Houston is presenting an opportunity to the 24-year-old right-hander this month to ascertain whether he can provide some value to the club for October. As I mentioned last week here, it is worth experimenting with players like Brown and Yanier Diaz in September to see if that is a feasible plan.

So, what should we expect to see from Brown in his debut later today?

The right-hander primarily utilizes four pitches: A four-seam fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup. Of those four pitches, the best two offerings are arguably his fastball, which can occasionally reach the upper nineties, and his high-spin curveball that misses plenty of bats. He also mixes in his slider and occasionally his changeup.

The first clip below is Brown’s four-seam fastball in action, reaching about 95 miles per hour. Does it remind you of another four-seam fastball thrown higher in the zone for whiffs?

An effective pitch across multiple areas of the strike zone, as with other pitchers who have been developed within the Astros’ minor league system, Brown’s four-seam misses plenty of bats higher in the zone. Arguably the best pitch in his repertoire, especially if his command continues to show improvement.

But the pitch that I am looking forward to watching later this evening is Brown’s curveball, which was implemented by the Astros following their selection of the right-hander in the fifth round of the 2019 draft. The gif below is a bit grainy, but his curveball is a breaking pitch that generates plenty of spin, which ought to help it miss a fair share of bats at the major league level.

Truthfully, I am a sucker for curveballs with loads of breaking action. Brown’s curveball is the pitch that I am most optimistic about. That said, I am also interested to see how and when Brown utilizes his slider and changeup. His slider, in particular, is effective but not quite on the same level as his curveball. Still, an effective pitch when used in the right spots, and it offers a different look depending on the matchup and sequencing.

However, the main issue in Brown’s minor league career isn’t a lack of pitches to use; rather, it is more about lapses in command and his propensity to walk opposing hitters. But this problem appears to have been mitigated to some extent since June 18, the last outing he had when he allowed more than three walks in a game.

  • 4/6 to 6/18: 29 walks
  • 6/24 to 8/28: 16 walks

Command, or lack thereof, will likely determine whether Brown’s 2022 season continues into October or not. It is something to watch in this start and any future appearances he makes between now and his regular season finale. If it isn’t much of an issue, I will venture to say he may actually earn a spot on the postseason roster.