Hunter Brown only received one Division I college offer throughout his high school baseball career in Michigan. Eastern Michigan University extended Brown a walk-on spot where he’d catch bullpen sessions his first season and maybe receive a chance to pitch during his college career.
Brown declined the opportunity. He opted to attend Wayne State University in Detroit and play for its Division II baseball program.
“I grew up not very far from Detroit, and I was going to go to school here anyways,” Brown said. “Once I got the opportunity to play baseball here, it was a no brainer.”
Brown has made remarkable progress in his three years at Wayne State. He’s developed into a talent right-handed pitcher and a top prospect for June’s MLB draft.
He’s the top Division II draft prospect and likely will be a top-five round pick. He also should become the highest-ever pick in Wayne State history, surpassing right-hander Anthony Bass who went in the fifth round of the 2008 draft.
“As a DII guy, it’s probably not as expected as if you were playing in the SEC,” Brown said. “But there’s good baseball players everywhere. It’s the same game regardless what level, but maybe just the overall game is played a little faster. But there’s talent at every level.”
Brown, a 6-foot-2, 203-pound righty, is having a notable season after experiencing mixed results between the bullpen and starting rotation his first two years at Wayne State.
In 13 starts, he has a 1.80 ERA with three complete game shutouts, 105 strikeouts and 35 walks allowed in 80 innings.
Brown throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, slider and changeup from a high three-quarters arm slot. His fastball has sat in the mid-90s and occasionally has touched 98 mph this spring. It’s an improvement in velocity over his last two years when he was peaking at 91 mph as a freshman and 93 as a sophomore.
“My fastball is my bread and butter pitch. It’s my go-to pitch in any count,” he said.
He also has shown improvement with this slider this spring. It sits in the mid-80s and features respectable break and depth. He uses his two-seamer to attack hitters and generate ground balls. He rarely throws his changeup, which is at best an average offering.
Brown believes his biggest strength is his competitiveness on the mound.
“My overall want to win and to compete every single pitch,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even say my stuff because it’s gotten better over time, but I’ve always been able to do pretty well at baseball because of that competitiveness that I bring onto the field.”
Brown made two appearances in the Cape Cod League last summer. He said the experience working with well-regarded coaches and college players helped his development and realize his pro potential.
Besides refining his changeup, Brown wants to improve his command over the remaining part of his junior season, he said.
“I am confident that I can throw all my pitches for strikes,” Brown said. “But I fail to move them in and out and up and down in the zone consistently. That’s definitely what I need to work on here.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for four years. He’s interviewed 133 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.