30. McCade Brown (74 points, 14 ballots)
McCade Brown has the draft pedigree (79th overall pick in the 2021 draft out of Indiana, signed to a slot bonus of $780.4k) and size (6’6”, 225) for Rockies fans to dream of a workhorse starting pitcher. The 22-year-old right-hander started as a walk-on at Indiana, but was limited by injuries and the lost COVID year to just 67 2⁄3 innings (61 of them in 2021) across 18 games (15 starts) in his collegiate career, during which he had a 4.52 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, and an impressive 14.4 K/9 rate with a less impressive 7.4 BB/9 rate.
Brown did make a brief appearance for Colorado’s complex-level team near the end of 2021, but in all practicality, 2022 was his first year as a professional. Brown was assigned to Low-A Fresno in early May, where he was about 0.8 years younger than league average. He made 18 starts, throwing 89 2⁄3 frames with a 5.22 ERA and 1.26 WHIP, paired with an excellent 11.8 K/9 rate and a good 2.3 BB/9 rate. Brown’s 3.73 xFIP is indicative that he was a bit unfortunate to get those results, and the K/BB numbers are encouraging.
Here’s Brown from his first start with Fresno in early May 2022:
Baseball Prospectus ranked Brown 18th in the system in November:
Brown offers mid-90s heat and a swing-and-miss curveball careening down from his 6-foot-6 frame. The rest of the repertoire—a slider and change—aren’t particularly noteworthy, and he doesn’t consistently throw good strikes with the fastball. The breaker might be good enough to carve out a major-league relief role regardless, and there’s some upside given the cold-weather profile and limited reps.
Big and strong, the 6-foot-6 Brown has the look of a durable innings-eating starter if he can harness his stuff. While his fastball was more low-90s in college in 2021, he was regularly in the mid-90s, occasionally touching higher, during instructs. It plays up regardless of velocity because of high spin rates up in the zone and he has the ability to get positive results down in the zone as well. His out pitch is a power breaking ball that can sometimes fall between being a curve and a slider, but looks more like the former at its best, with hard, biting and late action and depth.
Brown had largely been a two-pitch pitcher in the past, but he has exhibited some feel for a changeup. That and his ability to command his stuff, particularly the fastball, will be the key to what his future looks like. The Rockies are committed to seeing if it works in a rotation, knowing that fastball-breaking ball combination might trend up in shorter stints out of the ‘pen.
The above evaluation includes a 60 (plus) grade on the fastball and a 55 on the curveball.
Fangraphs ranks Brown as a 40 FV prospect and now slots him in 28th 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 [Joe] 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.
Brown flashed a plus heater and hook at Indiana, but had a shorter track record of success and command, so he’s a bit of a developmental type. Since he’s 6-foot-6 and a solid athlete with a recent stuff bump from a cold weather background, there’s a little more time to see how it goes, but the bullpen is the most likely outcome.
Brown’s stuff was good enough to get him drafted high and he showed reasonably well in his professional debut. Still, Brown’s numbers weren’t elite and hasn’t had the reps over the last few years to refine his arsenal and repeat his delivery, which makes him a player with strong upside but a lower middle relief fallback role.
The potential and pedigree led me to give Brown a 40 FV grade, but he just fell off my personal list as I chose to highlight other prospects within that similar tier. Brown is probably at least two years away from big league contribution and will probably start 2023 in High-A Spokane. Fortunately, he has some time to develop as Rule 5 status isn’t yet an issue.