Scouting New Cubs Pitching Prospects Ben Brown and Saúl González

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Scouting New Cubs Pitching Prospects Ben Brown and Saúl González

Chicago Cubs

I know some of you are disappointed the Cubs don’t have more new, shiny toys for the farm system after Tuesday, but I’ll tell you that selfishly, it was nice to only have to tackle only two video reports! Today, I’m digging into Ben Brown, acquired for David Robertson, and Saúl González, acquired for Mychal Givens.

I’m not including Kervin Castro into today’s write-up because he’s a more known commodity with big league experience, but excited to see if the Cubs can get him throwing enough strikes down the stretch, because that’s some plus stuff.

After watching a handful of Ben Brown and Saúl González outings, here’s what I can share about each …

Ben Brown

Description: Drafted all the way back in 2017, Brown was a project that the Phillies were taking really slowly, and then Tommy John surgery required that development go even slower. But Brown did a fantastic job rehabbing, trained with Driveline, and credit to the Phillies for ushering a big 2022 breakout. Brown was promoted to Double-A days before this trade, as he’d posted the sixth-highest K% and fifth-lowest xFIP at the High-A level up to that point.

Brown is a well-built 6-foot-6, clearly has succeeded in the weight room since being drafted. He features a quick tempo delivery (similar to Jordan Wicks in that sense) and over-the-top release point. We’ll talk more about that delivery below.

Skills You’re Excited About: The results are telling the story of a pitcher that has figured some important things out. In his last 11 starts, dating back to May 15: 58.1 IP, 40 H, 2.31 ERA, 10 BB, 91 K. That hot streak started by embracing heavy fastball usage, and that pitch is plus all the way through. He’s been about 92-98 mph this year, and the plus pitch has the late giddy-up that you love to see. There were some times on video where he’d lean on the pitch for 6-10 pitches in a row, and still manage to get whiffs on half those tosses.

As the summer has gone on, Brown has been throwing his curveball as his primary secondary offering, with much more usage of the pitch in the July outings I saw. I hesitate to call the pitch a curveball, because it’s almost like a slider by the eye test; I suppose we’ll call it a power slurve (at the end of the day, the name doesn’t really matter). Brown’s recent up-tick in SwStr% has been the result of being able to use this pitch in all counts, which also allows him to pitch backwards and finish hitters off with the fastball.

Development that needs to happen: Brown also throws a more conventional slider, and while some reports have signaled it being better than the above curve, I firmly disagree. The slider comes in a touch faster, with a touch less drop, but otherwise is more conventionally average. I actually would let that power slurve continue in its current iteration, but attempt to transition Brown’s slider into a 90 mph cutter with minimal vertical break. I think that would help solve the 200-point platoon split that Brown saw in High-A.

It will also be interesting to see what the Cubs do with Brown’s delivery. The current version sees him escape his back half pretty early, with some effort in the delivery caused by his front shoulder flying open and a pronounced head whack. I wonder if the Cubs will ask for Brown to engage his back hip and butt a little longer, and it just might allow him to explore the high end of his velocity range a little longer.

Lance Brozdowski below reports that Brown has toyed with a split-change, and you can bet the Cubs will work on that, too. Don’t call him a reliever quite yet, folks.

Trying to contextualize him in the system: For me out of the gate, I’m slotting Brown as the seventh-best pitching prospect in the organization, below Jackson Ferris and above Daniel Palencia (I think that’s about 15 overall in the system). Brown is Rule 5 eligible after this season, and I expect the Cubs currently plan to add him to the 40-man roster in November. There’s reliever risk here if the offerings can’t expand like the Cubs are betting they could, and it’s noteworthy the Phillies had Brown pitch just once per week all season. But the results are special, and the foundation is there for a good starting pitcher. This would be a fun development to get right.

Saúl González

Description: Like Brown, González was a project pick out of high school, with González just now entrenched in Low-A after being drafted in 2018. The big right-hander has had trouble staying healthy throughout his career, leading to a switch to full-time reliever this season. He again started the season on the IL, but then didn’t allow a run from June 17 to July 15, a stretch comprising seven outings.

Skills You’re Excited About: The biggest thing, quite honestly, is the body. González is a giant human, listed at 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds. He has absolute tree trunk thighs, and yet, he moves his body through his delivery better than you’d expect. A hard fall towards first base at the end hasn’t compromised fastball control, so he gets plus marks for his feel on the mound. He’s messed around with five pitches still this year, with the best probably being when he can get his gyro slider up to the 85 or so range. I also like what Hawkeye tells us about his ability to kill spin on the changeup.

Development that needs to happen: I would expect that every pitch will be overhauled to some degree, but in the short term, perhaps the team just focuses on two. The fastballs are not currently special, so you need to explore everything: adding velocity by making the delivery more linear, adding cut to the four-seam, adding a bit more drop to the sinker. One of those must take. From there, I’d probably next focus on the slider, trying to get completely out of the 81-83 range and get the intent on the pitch a little better. If that can get up to like 84-87, we’re in business.

Trying to contextualize him in the system: González currently wouldn’t really be in consideration if I wrote out a top 50 in the farm system right now. In Myrtle Beach, at least Alfredo Zarraga and Angel González would already be higher ranked relievers, and I could make an argument for 2-3 more. As I say in the tweet above, I am truly surprised this is the best player the market had available for Givens; I think that’s a mistake by some contenders that I’ll happily point out when a worse reliever blows a game in October. That being said, the Cubs aren’t concerned about where González ranks right now, but only concerned about the X-percentile outcomes where the velocity upticks and you have a 280 pound intimidator coming out of the pen. I can see it, even if I’m not currently ready to bet on it.

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Author: Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith is a Minor League Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @cubprospects.