Analytically Inclined, Ben Brown Boasts a Power Arsenal

Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

When Eric Longenhagen and Tess Taruskin blurbed Ben Brown in last month’s Names To Know: 100 More Relevant Prospects feature, they noted his “monster mid-90s fastball/breaking ball combo.” Power is the defining characteristic of Brown’s arsenal. The 24-year-old righty ranks among the top pitching prospects in the Chicago Cubs organization, and following an impressive in spring training, he is expected to make his big league debut in the forthcoming campaign.

Brown began coming into his own in 2022 — the year he was acquired by the Cubs from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for David Robertson — and he made further strides last year. Across 92.2 innings between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, the 6-foot-6 righty logged a 12.6 strikeout rate while holding opposing hitters to a .215 batting average. His command faltered at times — a health-related speed bump was a contributing factor — but the power remained a constant.

Brown discussed his repertoire and approach at the Cubs’ spring training facility in Mesa, Arizona last week.

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David Laurila: You consider yourself a pitching nerd. How did that come about?

Ben Brown: “I’ve been one my entire life. I was coached really well growing up, but I also loved to watch YouTube videos of guys throwing. Roy Halladay. Josh Beckett. I was a big Red Sox fan, so I watched Beckett, Jon Lester, Daniel Bard, [Jonathan] Papelbon. I picked up a lot from that.

“I also spent some time at Driveline after I had Tommy John surgery [in 2019], and got introduced to that whole community in Seattle. I can be the hardest critic on myself, because I know what looks good, as well as the numbers you aspire for analytically. I feel like I’m pretty well versed on all that. And I’ve definitely had a lot of really good discussions with pitching coordinators and whatnot about analytics since getting traded over to the Cubs.”

Laurila: Have you found yourself chasing certain metrics on any of your pitches?

Brown: “A little bit last year with the slider; there was some metric chase. But the guys you see settling into the big league level don’t necessarily all have the nastiest stuff. They might have one or two pitches, but for the most part [teams] are looking at, ‘What can you command in zone?’ Once it’s in the zone, then it’s ‘How much nastier can we get this pitch?’ or ‘Why is this pitch getting hit?’ — whatever the question might be.”

Laurila: I’ve read that commanding the ball in the zone has been an issue for you. Is that true?

Brown: “Yeah, a little bit last year. I mean, I strained my oblique and came back and struggled out of the bullpen. But if you walk four and strike out 11 or 12… I mean, I’m not going to be too hard on myself if I do that.”

Laurila: How do you improve command?

Brown: “It just has to be from pitch one. You have to execute the 0-0 and 1-1 heaters. This offseason we spent a lot of work with constraints — whether it be hitters on either side of the box — really executing down the middle of the zone. I think the command issues last year probably just came from being at a different level and not commanding my offspeed the way I wanted to. But that’s why you make adjustments, year by year. It was the first time I’ve really ever struggled with command.”

Laurila: To what extent are you throwing middle and letting your stuff play?

Brown: “That’s been a pretty large focus this year, working on a north-south execution plan. This offseason was a huge emphasis on simplicity, on really just focusing on what I need to focus on. Just a simple approach.”

Laurila: When you say north-south, are you referring both to your delivery — staying direct to the plate — and working your pitches up and down in the zone?

Brown: “No doubt. It all works together with the lower half. If you’re moving the lower half well, you’re going to throw more strikes.”

Laurila: Do you have anything in your repertoire with a lot of horizontal movement?

Brown: “My changeup, which I’m going to throw a lot more this year. On a good day, I’ll get close to 20 inches of run. It’s not something that’s going to blow you away, but it’s going to be a solid third pitch. It’s not my curveball, but I’m thankful for it.”

Laurila: You get 20 inches arm-side with your change?

Brown: “I do throwing bullpens. We’re not there yet in games; we’re probably looking at 15-16 inches. As far as depth-wise… I could break down the numbers, but I’ll just say that it’s not like straight horizontal sweep. The grip is more or less a standard changeup grip. Really, it’s just a matter of me upping the usage on it and giving up my slider.”

Laurila: You’re giving up your slider?

Brown: “Right, I don’t throw it anymore. That happened this offseason. My curveball is good enough that there isn’t a need to throw it anymore. I’d thrown a gyro in 2022, last year it was more of a sweeper, and they just took away from my other pitches. If you look at guys like Spencer Strider and Justin Steele, those guys dominate with pretty much two pitches.”

Laurila: What is your best pitch?

Brown: “I would say my fastball is my best pitch, but I think that nobody has my curveball. My curveball is my outlier pitch. It’s what I get the most swing-and-miss on. I throw it in the zone. I throw it hard. I throw an 88-mph curveball.”

Laurila: Why then would you say that your fastball is your best pitch?

Brown: “I just feel like I’m fully convicted behind my heater. I’m going to ride or die with that fastball. I feel confident with it. But again, from an outlier standpoint, my curveball would definitely be the thing that I have that not everybody does. I had a pretty good curveball high school, and after some tweaks I started throwing it really hard.”

Laurila: What type of tweaks?

Brown: “I spike it really hard. I’m not really looking for a huge movement profile. I’m looking for something short, something to throw in-zone as hard as I can, with conviction. I’m never trying to just throw a get-me-over with it.”

Laurila: How much depth do you get with it?

Brown: “Max, about seven inches. That’s what it’s designed to be. Again, it’s really hard. It’s the death ball that you see [from]… [Pete] Fairbanks, [Tyler] Glasnow, the [Jordan] Montgomery. It’s like those pitches. Basically straight down.”

Laurila: How much ride do you get on your four-seamer?

Brown: “About 16-18 inches. Nothing absurd, but it’s coming from a funky angle. I feel like I hide the ball well. It’s also 96 mph.”

Laurila: What makes for the funky angle?

Brown: “I have a relatively higher release height. It’s not a very generic throw. I get some swings-and-misses up in the zone. I feel like it’s a different view for hitters.”

Laurila: What is your role going forward, starter or reliever?

Brown: “Starter. But whatever it is, it’s hard to beat a guy who doesn’t quit. That’s what I’ve got. I’m going to keep trying to get better every single day and see where I end up.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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tjralstin13
2 months ago

Hey David, love these articles! Have you considered recording these and posting these kind of interviews in video format? Would love to see more of these players and maybe even visuals describing pitch grips, mechanics, routines, etc. Plus everyone has different personalities, and you do a great job highlighting players that most of the baseball community doesn’t know and should get to know. Thanks a lot!