Mar 12, 2023; West Palm Beach, Florida, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Hunter Brown (58) throws a pitch against the Miami Marlins during the first inning at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports
Astros Player of the Day: Hunter Brown
Welcome to Gallery Sports’ Houston Astros Spring Training player spotlight, Astros Player of the Day. We will look at a different Astros player each day throughout spring training.
Today’s Astros Player of the Day is pitcher Hunter Brown.
A fifth-round pick in 2019, Brown is a rare Astros draft success story since they took Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker on the same day in 2015, and he’s their only prospect inside the top 100 on any public prospect list, coming in as high as number 28 on Baseball America’s 2023 preseason list.
Brown started to turn heads within the Astros organization when he struck out more than 32% of the hitters he faced in his first full minor league season two years ago, and he dominated the Pacific Coast League last season, posting a 2.55 ERA in 106 innings with a 31.5% strikeout rate. In any other organization, Brown would’ve made his Major League debut well before Sep. 5, but the depth of the Astros staff held Brown back.
Brown won his first two Major League starts, shutting out the Rangers over six innings in his debut, and then holding his hometown Tigers to two runs over six innings on Sep. 13. His last five regular season appearances came out of the bullpen, where he did not allow a run over 8.1 innings while striking out 11. The Astros included Brown on the roster for all three playoff series, and he did not allow a run in three games over 3.2 innings.
Growing up a Tigers fan, Brown learned to mimic Justin Verlander’s delivery, and his pitch mix is similar to that of his former teammate. He throws a four-seam fastball that averaged 96.6 MPH, the 90th percentile among all Major League pitchers, last season while mixing in a curveball and a slider. His whiff rate doesn’t jump off the page, but he did induce a 64.7% ground ball rate, well above the 44.9% league average.
No one doubts Brown’s stuff, but his ability to consistently throw strikes is of some concern. He walked 11.5% of the batters he faced in 2021 and 10.6% in Triple-A last season. That number dropped to 8.8% after joining the Astros, but strike throwing has been an issue thus far during spring training.
With Verlander in New York and Lance McCullers Jr. expected to start the season on the injured list, Brown is a lock to make the Astros opening day roster, and he’ll enter the season as one of the Astros’ best five starting pitchers, but on a team expecting to compete for a championship, there is pressure on him to perform.