A few weeks ago, the Astros showed off just how great they continue to be in player development with the debut of former fifth-round draft pick Hunter Brown. One start was all Brown needed to throw one of the fastest sliders in the MLB this season, eliminate a team from division title contention, and be compared to two-time Cy Young winner Justin Verlander. Not bad for a former fifth-round pick.
The Astros certainly are not lacking in starting pitching depth. However, as a part of September call-ups, they decided to give their top prospect a shot in the majors. Brown responded with six shutout innings, allowing just three hits and one walk. With two other appearances (one GS) since his debut, Brown is now 2-0 on the season with a 1.20 ERA in 15 innings.
Brown’s brilliance so far hasn’t been a surprise to those familiar with his game. In Triple-A, as a member of the Sugarland Space Cowboys, Brown posted a 2.55 ERA, averaging 11.38 K/9. Scouts loved the high-velocity fastball and big, breaking curveball. Grading both at 65 on a 20-80 scale where 60 is considered above average. Brown’s curve also recorded 9.3 inches more of drop than the league average, good for first in MLB.
Arguably the most impressive part of his debut was the 95.7 MPH slider he threw on the third pitch of the night. Only Emmanuel Clause and Jacob DeGrom have thrown a slider faster this season.
He also recorded just one walk. Brown had dealt with some control issues throughout his tenure in the minors, allowing 3.8 BB/9 this season. Brown missed his spot a few times throughout the night, allowing hard hits as a result.
Against Brown, Ranger hitters had an average exit velocity of 96.1 MPH, nearly eight mph higher than the league average. In addition, they also had a HardHit% of 60%, almost double the league average of 35.8%. Although those numbers are alarmingly high, it is far less worrisome when considering that 12 of the 16 balls put in play were put on the ground.
It is hard to be critical of a six-inning shutout in one’s major league debut, but Brown and the Astros staff know that honing his control will be the key to unlocking his potential. He’s taken a step forward already, lowering his BB/9 from 3.8 in the minors to just 2.4 in his 15 innings with the big league club. Luckily, the Detroit native gets the benefit of being in the same clubhouse as his idol and now teammate Justin Verlander, in addition to the other great starting pitchers on the Astros roster.
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