Ben Brown – Pic by Dylan Heuer/Iowa Cubs
With just two weeks left to go in the Major League season, and one week left for the Iowa Cubs, it is coming right down to the wire about whether Ben Brown is going to make it to the big league roster this season. Since September 3, Brown has been functioning only in relief after missing five weeks with an injury. I am curious to see whether Brown will get a shot the next two weeks with his mid to upper 90s fastball and nasty slider as both could play out of the pen in Chicago.
Brown’s 2023 campaign began in Tennessee. He made four starts with a 0.45 ERA, and was quickly promoted to AAA Iowa. The best way to describe his first three months in Iowa would be inconsistent, at best. May was decent with a 3.75 ERA, but June was not with an ERA of 6.41. July was much better as he struck out 25 in 21.1 and opponents hit just .167 against him that month after rattling him at .282 in June.
It’s hard to look at Brown’s career in small segments. The just turned 24-year-old right hander does show a lot of promise as a starting pitcher, but he’s also had a career pockmarked with injuries. It rarely gets mentioned but he is still pretty much a low mileage arm. In 2017, he only threw 14 innings. In 2018, that went up to 56.2. 2019 saw him toss just 13.2 innings before being shut down. He missed the pandemic year in 2020 and then only threw 16 in 2021. That’s a total of 100.1 innings over his first four seasons.
In 2022, prior to coming to the Cubs, he threw 73 innings at class High-A in the Phillies’ system, a career high. Then, he put in an additional 31 innings at Tennessee which is a huge jump in innings from one year to the next.
Heading into Sunday, Brown had only thrown at 91 frames this year. And 85 of those were by the end of July before he was shut down.
That leads to this question…
Are the Cubs using Brown as a reliever now as a way to manage his innings this year or do they see him as a potential bullpen piece either this year or next?
The answer to all three parts could technically be yes, but highly doubtful. One of them is likely a no and I will explain why.
Since returning to action at the beginning of September, Brown has thrown six innings in relief over five outings. One of them was a disaster in which he managed just a third of an inning and gave up three runs. The other four games were all scoreless stints with seven strikeouts in 5.2 frames to go along with four walks. The statistic that jumps out most to me is that opponent hit just .150 against him and that includes the outing where he was roughed up.
If I had to make my best guess to answer the previous question, it would be that the Cubs are managing his innings because he still is pretty low on the innings total. However, his current role could also see him coming up to Chicago next year out of the bullpen. They could sort of kill two birds with one stone there.
Still, the odds of him coming up this year are between slim and none. He has not pitched on back-to-back days. In fact, he’s just coming out and throwing every three days. If he comes out out of the bullpen on consecutive nights this week, then that will give us a clue that he might be a possibility for this season.
But with a playoff spot on the line, bringing up Brown at this point in time would be quite the risk. Although, they did do that with a Luke Little and Pete Crow-Armstrong. If I was a betting man, I would be leaning that he has maybe a 5-10% chance. And that’s only if he pitches on back-to-back days this week. Otherwise, his season is going to end next Sunday, the 24th.
Still, it’s been a promising one that is ending on exciting terms for 2024.