Brown's path to Majors might be in bullpen

June 5th, 2023

SAN DIEGO -- One way the Cubs have introduced starting pitching prospects to the big leagues in recent years has been via the bullpen. The club did so with and . Chicago followed that pattern with before he eventually found a home as a relief weapon.

As prospect continues to impress with Triple-A Iowa, the Cubs are weighing the same path with him. If the 23-year-old Brown -- acquired from the Phillies at the Trade Deadline a year ago -- breaks through to the Majors this season, it could be by way of the bullpen.

“It's a good way to give them a Major League feel, get them competing,” Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “Prove that, at a high level, you can get guys out in the big leagues and in the strike zone. Now, just take that mentality and you're doing it as a starter.”

Brown is ranked No. 6 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 list for the Cubs and recently cracked baseball’s Top 100 list in the final slot. After dominating the Double-A level to start this season (0.45 ERA in four starts), the righty has continued to show promise while working out of the I-Cubs’ rotation.

In May, Brown posted a 3.75 ERA in five outings, but seven of the 10 earned runs he yielded came in one rough start on May 16 in Indianapolis. Last month, he had 36 strikeouts against 12 walks in 24 innings, while holding batters to a .207 average. He gave up three earned runs in his latest outing on Friday, hitting 97 mph with his fastball.

Hottovy expressed confidence that Brown could adapt easily to a multi-inning relief role, if that scenario presents itself.

“He has that mentality,” Hottovy said. “If he comes up and we throw him in the bullpen, he's not like, ‘I’ve got my routine. I do all this.’ He's like, ‘Give me the ball. I just want to throw.’ Any role that he's in, I think I feel confident in him being able to do it.”

Besides Brown, who gets the nod as the unofficial Cubs’ pitcher of the month for May at Triple-A, here were the month’s top performers down on the farm:

Player: OF Yonathan Perlaza
Perlaza is not on Pipeline’s Top 30 list for the Cubs, but he has been enjoying a strong season with a .311 batting average and a .963 OPS through 37 games. For the month of May, the switch-hitter turned in a .290/.402/.478 slash line with 10 extra-base hits, 12 walks, 14 runs and 20 hits in 20 games. Perlaza, a 24-year-old from Venezuela, has been in the Cubs’ system since 2016.

Player: INF BJ Murray Jr.

Murray, who checks in as the Cubs’ No. 30 prospect, turned in a .309/.414/.628 slash line with six homers, 10 doubles, one triple, 20 RBIs, 20 runs and 16 walks in May. Murray was a 15th-round pick by the Cubs in the 2021 MLB Draft and has played first, second and third this season. He suited up for Great Britain in the World Baseball Classic in the spring.

Pitcher: RHP Porter Hodge  
Hodge, 22, was one of the top performers in the Cubs’ system in 2022, posting a 2.63 ERA with 141 strikeouts in 109 1/3 innings. Ranked as the Cubs’ No. 20 prospect, Hodge has a 5.36 ERA through 10 starts this year, but he took a step forward in May. For the month, the righty had a 1.64 ERA with 32 strikeouts and 11 walks in 22 innings (five starts).

Player: INF James Triantos
With apologies to Ezequiel Pagan (.909 OPS in May), Triantos gets the nod here due to his strong comeback from a preseason right knee procedure. Triantos, the Cubs’ No. 11 prospect and a second-round pick in the ’21 MLB Draft, slashed .328/.423/.475 with two homers, three doubles, nine RBIs and more walks (six) than strikeouts (five) in May. His 6% walk rate entering Sunday ranked third in all of the Minors (minimum 80 plate appearances).

Pitcher: RHP Connor Noland
The 23-year-old Noland -- a ninth-round selection by the Cubs in the 2022 MLB Draft -- spun a 1.02 ERA over four starts in May. Over 17 2/3 innings, the right-hander racked up 18 strikeouts and issued no walks. Noland allowed just 13 hits, including no home runs.

Player: 1B/OF Felix Stevens 
Stevens, 23, slashed .297/.395/.486 in 22 games in May, finishing the month with three homers, five doubles, nine RBIs, 11 walks and 13 runs in 22 games. The Cuba native has bounced between first and the corner outfield spots.

Pitcher: RHP Nick Hull
It was a trough choice between Grant Kipp (1.59 ERA) and Hull, but the 23-year-old righty gets the nod. In four outings in May, Hull had a 1.47 ERA with 22 strikeouts and eight walks in 18 1/3 innings. A seventh-round pick in the ’22 MLB Draft, Hull limited batters to a .164 average and had a 0.98 WHIP for the month.