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Right-hander Ben Brown is on the brink of majoring


MESA, Ariz. — Ben Brown’s season did not end the way he imagined.

A year that was heading toward earning his first major league call-up to the Chicago Cubs in recent weeks was interrupted by a left oblique/transverse injury that sidelined him all of August. When he returned, he was cast in a reliever role due to his limited developmental window, with mixed results in one-two-inning games.

After recording a 0.45 ERA in four starts at Double-A Tennessee to start the season, Brown recorded a 5.33 ERA in 22 games (15 starts) at Triple-A Iowa, with most of his struggles coming in his final 13 appearances (7.58 ERA).

“I took responsibility for the things that went wrong last year, and I think that’s a good thing,” Brown told the Tribune. “You have to take responsibility for your mistakes and that way you can grow from them.

“Looking back on last year, the first few months of the year, I knew that no matter what anyone said, I was the best pitcher in minor league baseball. And there’s no hiding that, and that’s really encouraging.”

An end-of-year meeting where he received feedback from the organization helped Brown feel confident about how he needed to get back on track. The Cubs believed his inconsistencies, especially with his command, were fixable, and they thought he had the ability to help the big league club in 2024 as well. But that would require plenty of work in the offseason. The adjustments focused on two areas: properly engaging his legs during his delivery and abandoning the sweeper he had spent the previous off-season developing.

It all came down to the mental aspect of the game.

“My performances were affecting everything,” Brown said. “If I didn’t shoot well or was nervous the next day, I couldn’t sleep at night. Or if I pitched well, I would be so happy that I would forget to focus on preparing for my next start. I fought successfully. I struggled with failure. “I want to do the same thing every day so that one day I have the mental capacity to play 30 games in the big leagues.”

Brown’s adjustments were on display in two shutout innings in his Cactus League debut on Saturday, allowing two hits with a walk and a strikeout. The 6-foot-4 righty’s fastball reached 96 mph and hit 98 in the Cubs’ 8-4 win over the San Francisco Giants. He focused on his three-pitch repertoire, mixing up his fastball, curveball and changeup.

By dropping his slider, Brown expects his curveball to be in the zone more. Brown said the slider will remain in his back pocket if he needs it, but he believes he’ll take a step forward in his development by swapping pitches to righties with a curveball.

Photos: Inside Cubs spring training camp

“That comes down to my in-zone belief on the breaking ball, the curveball,” Brown said. “I’m getting more infield strikes and misses with my curveball than I did last year with my slider; My in-zone strike and miss with my curveball is really high, so anything could turn into that.

Brown spent the offseason working out at the Cubs complex in Arizona. Most of his shooting work focused on his lower half. “I don’t know if we’re supposed to give away our secrets,” Brown smiled before revealing that his core speedster had become his best friend in the offseason. The belt allowed her to lift her leg and hold her right heel a little longer.

Brown’s fielding data in 2023 showed that he had too much “toe” and was unable to properly engage his lower half. He spent nearly every offseason day doing something on the mound for 4 1/2 months.

“I already went through that weird phase early on, there was a point where I felt more comfortable on the mound than pitching on the flat,” Brown said. “This was really great. I’ve never experienced this before. Usually it’s the other way around, I can throw really well playing catch and then I come off the mound, I have no idea what I’m doing, so it’s the exact opposite. I’m confident.”

Brown, who is on the 40-man roster, is likely unlikely to make the opening day roster unless the Cubs believe he can be reliable in a relief role. As long as he stays healthy, he should help the Cubs at some point this season, whether as a starter or coming off the bench.

“I definitely have big goals, I shouldn’t say it out loud but when they call my name I’ll be ready to go,” Brown said. “If I get the opportunity to appear on the show, it would be a dream come true and I will dominate this opportunity. I hope I get a chance.”


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