For those who follow their favorite Major League Baseball team’s minor league system, there is little more exciting than the development and/or promotion of a top prospect that has fans buzzing.
I can certainly speak to it from experience, having been an avid follower of the Houston Astros’ system for years as they have made their way into being yearly World Series contenders. And it’s no different this week as we spotlight one of the organization’s most highly-touted prospects.
Right-handed pitcher Hunter Brown – the Astros’ third-ranked prospect behind fellow pitcher Forrest Whitley and recently-promoted infielder/outfielder Pedro Leon – was promoted to the Skeeters on Saturday, less than two weeks after Leon’s promotion.
During his Sugar Land debut Sunday night, Brown allowed one run over six innings, scattering two hits and striking out seven hitters against a lone walk.
This one is especially exciting for me, because I had the chance to see Brown in person back in June during a vacation to Corpus Christi. I came away from that outing believing the hype is very much warranted.
The fast-rising Brown will be the focus of this week’s Skeeters Spotlight installment.
Brown has faced high expectations from the jump of his professional career. The Astros selected him in the fifth round of the 2019 draft after three seasons at Wayne State University, during which he posted a 3.33 ERA and struck out 170 batters in 159.2 innings.
Right off the bat, Brown showed why the Astros were so high on him. Despite posting a 4.56 ERA in 23.2 innings at short-season Tri City in 2019, his electric arm came to life almost instantly, striking out 33 batters – or a rate of 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings – in his debut pro season.
The fact Brown and the rest of minor league baseball had their 2020 season wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic did not appear to faze the Astros’ front office, which promoted him to Double-A Corpus Christi to begin the 2021 season. He posted a 4.20 ERA in 49.1 innings for Corpus Christi prior to the promotion, but struck out 76 hitters – good for 13.9 K/9 – in that span
So the 22-year-old Brown has had a lot of faith placed in him by the Astros’ organization. What does the future hold for the prized hurler? Let’s dig a little deeper.
First things first – arms like Hunter Brown’s absolutely do not grow on trees. That being said, this has been a focus of the Astros’ scouting department in the last decade or so – find big arms who couple high-velocity fastballs with swing-and-miss off-speed arsenals, and mold them into key cogs in their pitching machine. Whether it’s Lance McCullers, Jr., Enoli Paredes, Josh James or someone else, that’s the MO. And Brown certainly fits the bill.
As soon as I saw he would be the starting pitcher on June 18, I instantly perked up. Because it’s one thing to hear the hype, but everyone who follows prospects relishes the chance to see it in person. And let me tell you – the hype is very real and warranted.
He threw 86 pitches that night in Corpus over 5.1 innings, with a live fastball that was still sitting around 95-96 miles per hour as he neared the conclusion of his outing. Brown struck out 10 hitters in the game. Including that outing, he had a 2.79 ERA in his last nine appearances with the Hooks prior to the promotion, striking out 62 batters in just 38.2 IP while allowing a .201 batting average against him.
All that said, the issue with Brown now and moving forward will continue to be what has been a common issue with Astros arms in recent years – command of his secondary pitches. He struggled to command his off-speed pitches that night, and issued 29 walks in his 49.1 innings as a Hook.
But having the ability to miss bats at the elite level that Brown has shown during his brief time at the professional level is typically a precursor to success, provided the trend continues as he grows into his pitching arsenal.
Prediction: Brown is one of those rare arms the Astros have specialized in finding during recent drafts. His smooth delivery mechanics combined with his young age shows incredible potential for even more growth as he ages. I’d say his ceiling is as high as a top-of-rotation starter, while my worst-case scenario is bullpen dynamo. Either way, look for this guy to be on the mound at Minute Maid Park sooner rather than later.
Meyers on the move: Outfielder Jake Meyers was promoted to the Astros on Friday afternoon. He made his major league debut on Sunday against the San Francisco Giants, striking out in a pinch-hit plate appearance. Meyers was hitting .343 with a 1.006 OPS with Sugar Land this season prior to his call-up.
Jones-ing for hits: Infielder/outfielder Taylor Jones went 6 for 20 last week, with two homers and five RBIs. Jones, who has appeared in 21 MLB games this season, is hitting .330 with a .939 OPS for Sugar Land.
Siri shines: Outfield prospect Jose Siri had one of his stronger weeks in recent memory, going 7 for 22 with a homer and a triple last week, reaching base in 10 of his 25 plate appearances.
Last week’s scores
July 26: Oklahoma City 3, Sugar Land 2
July 27: Sugar Land 8, Oklahoma City 3
July 29: Sugar Land 4, El Paso 3
July 30: El Paso 6, Sugar Land 3
July 31 (DH): Sugar Land 6, El Paso 4 (7 innings)
July 31: El Paso 2, Sugar Land 1 (7 innings)
August 1: Sugar Land 3, El Paso 2