Hunter Brown: Houston Astros Welcome Human Slingshot For Home Stretch
Along with baseball gear, he's got alarming velocity rates packed in his gym bag.
With a name that sounds like it’d be more at home sitting neatly as the new hue in the Crayola crayon collection than belonging to the Human Slingshot, Hunter Brown is a spanking-new Houston Astro.
Brown, a 6’2”, 212-pound right-hander who just turned 24, was drafted in the fifth round in the 2019 Draft, and has all but dominated Pacific Coast League hitters this year:
After 106 innings in 23 games (14 starts), Brown has spun a PCL-best 2.55 ERA, a second-best 1.08 WHIP, and League-bests .186 batting-average-against and 134 strikeouts for Houston’s AAA affiliate, the Sugar Land Space Cowboys. Brown’s 11.38 SO/9 is also tops in the PCL.
Brown, sporting tattoos of two lotus flowers and a tiger on his left forearm, will get his time to shine out of the Astros’ bullpen, using a handful of games in early September as a test run of sorts to see how best he can be used (long relief or situational) during the September/early October stretch run.
He was brought into the August 28 game against the Las Vegas Aviators (Oakland A’s affiliate) with two outs in the third inning with no runners on. He threw 3.1 hitless innings, simulating entering a game mid-inning. He was zeroed in all night, firing 40 of his 58 pitches for strikes and getting five ground-ball outs.
Brown, who goes by the name “Diesel” to those who know he delivers the gas (often reaching 99 mph), was named the Astros’ Minor League Pitcher of the Month for May.
Helping to earn that designation, Brown tossed a career-best seven scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts on May 26 in El Paso, setting single-game highs for himself and the Space Cowboys this year.
The Hunter Brown Origin Story
Completely ignored by all but one Division I school, Hunter Brown’s only shot at college came from the DII Wayne State University, in the shadow of his hometown Detroit. He even grew up emulating Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander, then with the Tigers.
With his fastball velocity increasing in shocking increments each of his three years there (with an undefeated junior year), the Astros nabbed him in the fifth round of the 2019 draft, #166 overall.
He projected, early on, as the kind of starting pitcher who, in time, may just end up being described as one the Astros “stole” in the draft. Brown’s rise up the Houston organizational ladder has been closely watched…by scouts and suits, as well as eagle-eyed fans eager for a new ace, if not a new bobblehead.
Motor City Madman
Born in Detroit on August 29, 1998, Hunter Noah Brown attended Lakeview High School in the Motor City suburb of St. Claire Shores. He was a team captain and a four-year letterman for the Huskies, tallying a 1.54 ERA in 50 senior innings while striking out 70 batters.
He was actually a First-Team All-League catcher and even an All-District selection as a utility player, talents that will be of absolutely no use to the Astros going forward. The same goes for his wrestling experience, for which he also lettered in 2013.
The “Ya Gotta Be Kiddin’ Me” Offer
Brown received only one DI college offer throughout his prep career for the Huskies at Lakeview. He was extended a walk-on invitation to Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti to catch bullpen sessions his first season with perhaps an offer to pitch during his college career…perhaps.
A quick “Thanks, but no thanks” led to his opting to attend Detroit’s Wayne State University to play for its Division II baseball program, apparently a long foregone conclusion.
“I grew up not very far from Detroit, and I was going to go to school here anyway,” Brown told the Baseball Prospect Journal in May 2019. “Once I got the opportunity to play baseball here, it was a no-brainer.”
Brown appeared in 14 games, making eight starts in 2017, his freshman year for the Warriors. He logged a 2-1 record with a 4.85 ERA, 33 strikeouts and 19 walks over 39 innings while measuring “just” 91 mph on the radar gun with his fastball.
In 2018, Brown’s sophomore season, he appeared in 13 games, which ranked second on the team. He made three starts and went 3-2 with a 4.33 ERA, striking out 31 batters in 35.1 innings. Opponents hit .279 against him, with his fastball ticking up to 93 mph, with the still-growing right-hander reaching 6’2″ and 203 lbs.
Officially Entering Astros’ Orbit
For his junior year in 2019, Brown ranked 14th in DII in strikeouts (114), and 27th in ERA (2.21), in his first year as primarily a starter. He started 14 games and went 9-0 with a 2.21 ERA. Opposing hitters managed a .203 batting average against him.
Coming into his own as a collegian, Brown struck out 114 batters in 85.1 innings. He also chalked up three complete games, three shutouts, and one combined shutout while watching his fastball creep up to a consistent 95 mph.
Hopes for a high draft position were only buoyed for the honor roll student after being clocked in the spring of 2019 with a robust 98 on his cheddar, breaking the sound barrier somewhere near Minute Maid Park.
During Brown’s junior season, he displayed the ability to pitch in the 96-98 mph range for three innings at a time, working consistently at 92-96 deep into some games.
How did Brown increase his velo rate so dramatically? As disclosed recently by MiLB.com, it was “a mechanical adjustment that spiked his velocity. Brown said he shortened his arm swing to get quicker to the plate, and soon his mid-90s heater could touch 99 mph while sitting mostly in the 94-96 mph range.”
“The scouts will find you if you have the talent and the ability.”
Before the 2019 draft, Brown was ranked the #156 prospect by Baseball America. Selected by Houston as the 166th overall pick in the fifth round, MLB.com actually had the Public Relations major ranked in the Top 100 draft prospects, at number 89.
Concern about possibly being “hidden” from scouts at a smaller DII school were quickly tossed aside by Brown, as he told Baseball Prospect Journal in August 2019: “I think wherever you play, the scouts will find you if you have the talent and the ability,” Brown said, confidently.
“I guess I realized I would be a fifth-round pick when I saw my name on the draft board. I started talking to scouts in the fall or winter time my junior season. The thought was if I put a good season together, then maybe I would have the opportunity to play some pro ball. In college, you try to focus on playing for your team and not about the draft.”
The Hunter Brown Scouting Report
Scouting grades: Fastball: 65 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 45 | Control: 45 | Overall: 40
Brown’s fastball stands out as a devastating pitch more for the downhill plane that comes from his high-three-quarters arm slot than its life… at least, that was the early read by scouts. Adding spin rate in the Houston organization may be a future goal.
“My fastball is my bread and butter pitch. It’s my go-to pitch in any count,” Brown said, almost daring any future batter.
While there’s not much effort in his delivery, he was known to struggle a bit, early on, repeating his mechanics. Brown will need to continue to nail that down to increase his pitch command and harness control. This will help him better aim for the starting rotation, especially eyeing 2023, as his main ‘22 role will be out of the bullpen.
Recognizing his area of improvement, Brown concurs, “I am confident that I can throw all my pitches for strikes. But, I fail to move them in and out and up and down in the zone consistently. That’s definitely what I need to work on here.”--Brown, early in his pro career
Brown has four pitches in his arsenal, a two-seamer with some sink (low 90s), his rising four-seamer and a changeup, accompanied by the slider. While not a new pitch to Brown, his curve had ended up as an arrow hidden near the back of his quiver.
Sometime during his first full pro year in 2020, Astros brass requested he increase its usage in-game. His curve is now described by some near the team as “devastating.”
His slider made some improvement while at Wayne State and shows promise of becoming a plus-pitch in the mid-80s with bite and depth. His changeup, more of a work in progress he rarely throws, will need more distinction in velocity from his fastball to be truly effective.
Brown cites his competitiveness on the mound as his strength: “My overall want to win and to compete every single pitch. I wouldn’t even say my stuff because it’s gotten better over time, but I’ve always been able to do pretty well at baseball because of that competitiveness that I bring onto the field.”
Music to Houston’s front office ears.
Finally, A Chance to Pitch With His Hero
“Being from Detroit, it’s huge to be in the same organization as Verlander because I grew up watching him,” Brown said recently.
“When I was younger, I tried to mimic everything he did. Starting pitching is coveted everywhere you go, especially in Houston. They do a great job developing young players and the way they progress through the system.
“I think going to a championship level organization like the Astros gives you a sense of security because they have everything figured out. I heard a lot of good things about the Astros. I cannot wait to be a part of it.”
He’s on his way.
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