Top prospect Brown focusing on slider mechanics after spring debut

Dusty singles out OF Dirden as player to watch at camp

March 1st, 2023

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The good news for Astros top pitching prospect Hunter Brown is the start of the season is still four weeks away. Brown left himself plenty to work on in the final month of Spring Training following his start in Wednesday’s 4-4 tie with the Red Sox at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Brown, MLB Pipeline's No. 43 prospect who appears headed towards a spot in the starting rotation, gave up two runs (one earned) in one inning, allowing two walks and hitting one batter. He threw 16 balls and 16 strikes and struggled with his command.

“Just trying to get sliders down and away and throw heaters in the zone,” Brown said. “I didn’t execute getting ahead of hitters and things like that, but trying to get my timing right. I think I was a little quick with that, so just kind of figure that out over the next couple of days and translate that into the next outing.”

Brown said the game sped up on him a little bit. He spent most of last year in Triple-A, so he is certainly accustomed to the pitch timer, though he did spend the final month of the season in Houston and made the ALDS and ALCS rosters.

“I think it has to do with just getting in game speed again,” Brown said. “I faced live hitters once this camp and [then] today. The more acclimated I get with that speed again, picking up a little faster than bullpens and things like that, I think I’ll be able to figure that out.”

Brown said refining the location of his slider is the No.1 thing he’s working on this spring. He yanked a few sliders Wednesday, but the curveball looked sharp. The fastball command simply wasn’t there his first time out.

“I think he got a little excited,” veteran catcher Martín Maldonado said. “His pitches were inconsistent, but overall he looked good. ... He missed a couple of fastballs up, a couple way off the plate too. The slider wasn’t as consistent.”

Baker's 2023 sleeper pick?
Astros manager Dusty Baker always likes to find a sleeper during Spring Training -- a player few expect to make a push to make the team. Enter outfielder Justin Dirden, who’s been making the most of his playing time in the first week of Grapefruit League action.

Dirden, a 25-year-old left-handed-hitting outfielder who’s not on the 40-man roster, has already hit a pair of home runs, in addition to making a diving catch in left field in Tuesday’s win over the Mets. He started in right field Wednesday and threw out Boston’s Enmanuel Valdez at the plate.

“We’re impressed with him and that’s why he's here,” said Baker, who first noticed Dirden during last year’s Minor League mini camp that took place during the lockout. “He’s getting a lot of playing time, getting a lot of looks. He’s playing well; he’s playing very well.”

But does Dirden have a shot to make the team out of camp? The Astros are expected to carry four outfielders -- Kyle Tucker, Chas McCormick, Michael Brantley and Jake Meyers are the current projected outfield -- to start the year, assuming everyone is healthy. That doesn’t include designated hitter Yordan Alvarez, who will play a lot in left field.

“That will definitely be tough,” Dirden said. “That's obviously the goal. I want to be part of a championship-winning team that has high standards and I have to be consistent to be able to do that.”

Dirden split last year between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Sugar Land and hit .302 with 82 runs, five triples, 24 home runs, 101 RBIs, 51 walks and 12 steals in 124 games. He started 31 games in left field, 46 in center and 34 in right field.

“I”m proud so far of what I’ve been able to show,” Dirden said. “I’ve showed a little bit on offense, a little bit on defense here and there. The name of the game is just consistency, trying to come in and do the same thing every day.”