Hunter Brown moved up rankings from 99 to 96 on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list Thursday.
Baseball America’s Top-100 Prospects list formerly listed Korey Lee and Jeremy Peña as the Houston Astros‘ sole representatives at the start of the season.
Obviously, Peña has graduated from prospect status during his rise at the Major League Baseball level. Lee has seen his stock drop a bit as the 2022 season moves along — slashing .216/.267/.401 with a 30.5% strike out rate as of Wednesday’s game — far removed from the performance during his time at High-A Asheville last season.
On the other hand, Hunter Brown’s recent rise indicates he is deserved of his feature on the list. Since being called up to Triple-A Sugar Land in 2021, Brown has amassed some serious numbers in the offensive buzzsaw that is the Pacific Coast League.
Brown has posted a 3.22 ERA and 1.263 WHIP with 21 appearances — 15 of those as a starter — with 42 walks and an eye-popping 115 strikeouts over 95 innings during his last two seasons at the Triple-A level.
However, the 23-year-old right hander has seemed to have taken yet another step in talent development this season. Through his first ten appearances in 2022, Brown has posted 2.45 ERA and 1.18 WHIP with 60 strikeouts through 44 innings pitched. Brown has also struck out seven or more batters in five of his ten starts.
It almost seems inevitable that Hunter Brown will be making his major league appearance at some point this season, but in what way?
Currently, the Astros have one of the best performing pitching staffs in the American League, where they currently rank first in team pitching ERA and second in starting pitcher ERA.
Positionally, the Astros have massive depth at the starting pitching role. In addition to the five current starters, they received encouraging updates on injured, veteran starters — Jake Odorizzi and Lance McCullers Jr. That would bring the starting pitching surplus to seven starters. Barring a trade or another injury, there isn’t direct line for Brown as a full-time starter at this point.
As with any contending team, the Astros will want the best arms available to them come October. The possibility of adding Brown to the bullpen for a late-season push and playoff run seems logical — and undoubtedly encouraged by fans. Even if he doesn’t make an appearance, the big league exposure alone would be valuable.
When Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle suggested that a bullpen role could have a negative impact on Brown’s development, Astros’ general manager, James Click offered, “I don’t think there’s a preponderance of evidence that that would have a massively deleterious effect on his prospect status and ability to help us as a starter in the future…”
In other words? That is a maybe on the bullpen for Brown.
Brown is currently not on the Astros’ 40-man roster, which has no vacancies at the moment. While a roster spot for him seems imminent, he will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft come December. So, either sooner or later, Brown will be on the big-league roster.