29. McCade Brown (79 points, 11 ballots)
Brown was the 79th overall pick in the 2021 draft out of Indiana and was signed to a slot bonus of $780.4k. The 21-year-old, 6’6” right-hander had just thrown 61 innings across 12 starts with a 3.39 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and an impressive 14.3 K/9 rate with a less impressive 6.3 BB/9 rate. It was the first major action for Brown, who barely pitched in both 2019 and 2020 for the Hoosiers (due to a back injury and the coronavirus respectively) after starting out as a walk-on, throwing 6 2⁄3 total innings between those seasons.
Brown did make a cameo appearance for Colorado’s complex-level team near the end of the season. It’s hard to draw too many conclusions from an eight-inning sample across four games, but the numbers for Brown were: six earned runs allowed on 10 hits and three walks while striking out nine. Regardless, it’s clear that Brown’s draft pedigree and stuff profile make him a worthy inclusion on this list.
Here’s some video of Brown via 2080 Baseball from last fall’s IU scrimmage:
Fangraphs ranked Brown as a 40 FV prospect before the draft and now slots him in 24th in the organization:
Brown’s ticket to the big leagues is his curveball, an upper-70s jawn with a power pitcher’s shape. His delivery isn’t overtly violent, but Brown has never had great touch-and-feel fastball command, and he walked 43 hitters in just over 60 innings in 2020. There are a couple potential avenues for Brown if you want to use some of the lack of innings/geographic components he shares with Rock as a reason to round up on his strike-throwing projection. More likely, Brown eventually moves to the bullpen, where he’ll again sit in the mid-90s and become a two-pitch middle reliever.
Keith Law of the Athletic ranked Brown 16th in the system in February:
Brown is a 6-6 right-hander with a workhorse body and is 93-95 mph already. His curveball has good shape and could end up plus, but his command and control are questionable – he walked 43 in 61 innings in the mediocre Big Ten last spring.
MLB.com ranked Brown 103rd overall among 2021 draft prospects and slotted him 26th in their mid-season system ranking:
Brown pitched at 92-95 mph and topped out at 97 last summer and fall, with strong fastball metrics that give his heater late hop and get it on hitters quicker than they can anticipate, and he opened 2021 with similar velocity before tailing off a bit in April. He generates power and high spin rates on a curveball that sits around 80 mph, and he also will show a harder slider. His changeup lags behind his other offerings in part because he has had little opportunity to use it.
Even more than developing a changeup, improving his control and command is the key to determining whether Brown can make it as a starter. He threw more strikes in the Kernels League but was erratic again this past spring, when he fanned 28 and walked two in his first two starts before his control and command deteriorated because he’s still learning to repeat his delivery and release point on a consistent basis. His lack of experience and the projection remaining in his 6-foot-6 frame give him more room for improvement than a typical third-year college arm.
We’ll have to see how Brown pitches in a larger sample size in 2022, presumably with an assignment to Low-A to start the season. Brown’s stuff was good enough to get him drafted high, but he hasn’t had the reps over the last couple years to refine his arsenal and repeat his delivery well. He’s a high potential arm with mid-rotation upside and middle relief fallback but a lot of risk, which is why I ranked Brown 22nd on my personal ballot with a 40 FV grade.