No matter how high a player is ranked as a prospect, young stars almost always have to compete for their spot on the 26-man Opening Day roster. Therefore, a strong start to the season is pivotal for prospects in order to display their potential in the majors, keep their spot on the roster, and avoid every prospect’s nightmare of being labeled a bust.
Already off to an eventful 2023 season, we’ve seen rookie arms across the league looking comfortable in the majors. Here are three of the hottest rookie pitchers in the American League who are off to promising starts this season.
Hunter Brown – Houston Astros
Just Baseball’s number 46 prospect, Hunter Brown, has the challenging task of playing a part in replacing Justin Verlander, who was lured out of Houston to accept a two-year $86.6 million deal with the Mets. Brown is no Justin Verlander, but his talent can help fill the void left in Verlander’s absence, as the Astros remains the AL West favorite and hope to defend their World Series title.
Brown is off to a promising start with Houston; over his last two starts, he has a 2.68 FIP and hasn’t allowed a run in 14 IP. He has immaculate stuff with a four-pitch arsenal containing a fastball, cutter, curve, and changeup. His fastball touches the mid-90s, and his gross slider sits at 92 mph. Brown has used his terrific arsenal to hold batters to a jaw-dropping 2.1% barrel rate in three starts this season.
Thirteen of his 17 strikeouts this season have come from his vicious curveball and slider, which freeze hitters in the box. His powerful arsenal isn’t his only impressive attribute; Brown has shown improvement in his command this season, diminishing his walk total with each start. He walked three in his season opener against Detroit, two in his follow-up outing against Minnesota, and just one over seven innings against Texas in his most recent start.
Astros fans should be pumped about what Brown has displayed this season and for his future with the club. There’s no doubt he has the ability to become the ace of the Astros in the near future and add brilliance to the top of an already scary rotation featuring Cristian Javier and Framber Valdez.
Kyle Muller – Oakland Athletics
Muller is a unique rookie who made his debut with the Atlanta Braves back in 2021. He pitched for the Braves again in 2022 before being traded to Oakland as part of the deal for All-Star catcher Sean Murphy. However, while Muller already had 11 starts under his belt, he was still considered a rookie entering the season.
Kyle Muller’s first Opening Day start was a special one, going toe-to-toe with the remarkable Shohei Ohtani. He flourished over five innings, striking out three and allowing just one run on four hits, giving a weak A’s lineup a fighting chance against Ohtani. As predicted, Ohtani shut out the A’s offense through six innings, but a dramatic eighth-inning comeback granted Muller a no-decision.
His fastball ranges between 92-94 mph, and he pairs it with a strikeout slider that runs away from lefties and into right-handed hitters. The fastball-slider combo makes up about 85% of what Muller uses to attack hitters, leaving room for him to add a solid third pitch to put him in that ace conversation. His changeup and curveball have decreased in usage since he joined the A’s. Luckily, since Oakland isn’t competing for anything but top draft picks for the next several years, Muller will have a handful of opportunities to develop a strong pitch to utilize with his fastball and slider.
The A’s seem to trade away anything that grows in Oakland, but Muller and top catching prospect Shea Langliers could be the stepping stone for them to start competing again. Growing pains are expected with Muller, but a strong start to the 2023 season is a positive sign.
Jhony Brito – New York Yankees
Yankee fans have been forced to wait a little longer for Carlos Rodón’s debut in pinstripes, opening up a roster spot for the 25-year-old Jhony Brito. The Dominican Republic native dominated his rookie debut against the Giants, shoving five scoreless innings, allowing just two hits, and striking out six. Brito attacks hitters with a mid-90s fastball paired with a changeup and slider that leave hitters scratching their heads. His violent changeup, which practically falls off the table, is his strikeout pitch and was responsible for all six of his strikeouts against San Francisco.
Brito continued to excel in his first road start in Baltimore, allowing one run on three hits and two strikeouts through five innings. Although his strikeout numbers weren’t as impressive as they were against the Giants, Brito displayed proof that he doesn’t have to rely on the strikeout in order to be successful on the mound.
The rookie finally received his “welcome to the big leagues” moment when the Minnesota Twins came to town, knocking Brito out of the game with just two outs in the first inning. He allowed seven runs on six hits, including a Michael A. Taylor three-run shot to dead center. It seemed as if Brito couldn’t find his command against the Twins, leaving fastballs over the plate and changeups in the zone.
Still, there is a lot to be excited about for Jhony Brito if you’re a Yankees fan, but his next start will be important for the young pitcher. Yankee management will be evaluating how Brito responds to his nightmare of an afternoon against the Twins in his next start sometime this week.