The Cubs had two picks in the first round of the MLB Draft tonight and they departed from their previous pattern of drafting hitters in the first round by taking two college pitchers.
With the 27th pick, the Cubs selected left-hander Brendon Little from the State Junior College of Florida. Little was the prize of North Carolina’s recruiting class of 2015, but he struggled to throw strikes in Chapel Hill as a freshman and soon found himself on the end of the bench most games. But Little went to the Cape Cod League last summer and made the league All-Star team after striking out 31 batters in 27 innings.
Needing to get more innings than he was getting with the Tar Heels, Little transferred to a junior college so he would be eligible for the draft this year. There he regained his confidence and flashed mid-90s fastball and tight 12-6 curve.
Here’s something from Baseball America’s profile of Little:
Little has taken impressive strides with his control with the workload he's gotten in junior college. He's been consistently around the strike zone, even if lacking pinpoint command. He has a tendency to finish upright and isn't always able to time his delivery. As a result, Little's strike throwing can come and go and he'll sometimes struggle to get on top of his curveball. Still, Little's fastball reaches 96 and rests comfortably at 90-93 with above-average life. His curveball shows tight top-to-bottom break in the upper 70s and could be a true plus pitch if he's able to continue improving his consistency. The lefty receives positive reviews for his work ethic and desire to improve.
Here is a link to MLB.com’s video profile of Little.
And here is him pitching for the Manatees.
With the 30th pick that they received for the loss of Dexter Fowler, the Cubs selected LSU right-hander Alex Lange. Lange took college baseball by storm his freshman season in 2015, leading LSU to the College World Series with a 12-0 record, along with a 1.97 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 114 innings.
Lange has never repeated that magical freshman season, and that’s a big reason why he was still available when the Cubs picked at number 30. Lange has lost a little velocity on his fastball this college season, sitting 90-94, but he was still in the 93-96 mph range when he pitched for Team USA last summer. So that might just be fatigue. But his curve is what really impresses scouts. When he can throw it for strikes (which admittedly, isn’t always), he’s unhittable. If the Cubs were willing commit to Lange as a reliever right now, he could move through the system quickly. But the Cubs will no doubt want to see how he does as a starter first.
In their writeup of Lange, Baseball America wrote:
Lange doesn't get to 94-96 mph as frequently as he did in 2015, but more than anything, teams have realized Lange's plus curveball is so good that they are much better off taking and hoping to do damage against his fastball. When he locates his hard-breaking curveball, he can dominate, but on nights he can't land his curveball for strikes he's not shown that his command of his 90-94 mph fastball is good enough to consistently get ahead with it. He shows occasional feel for his upper 80s changeup, which flashes late fade on the right night. Lange's delivery involves some effort which has explains some of his command struggles.
Here is a link to the MLB.com’s video profile of Lange.
Both Little and Lange have two things in common that tell us something about what the Cubs front office was looking for. One, they both have terrific curve balls. Two, they are both considered high-character and high-makeup pitchers. (I guess you could say they also may be destined for the bullpen, but that’s most likely not a strategy as much as it is a function of picking at the end of the first round.)
So I ask that everyone give these two young men a warm welcome to the Cubs family. Let’s hope they they can soon pick up a World Series ring like the first-round draft picks from 2011 to 2014 all did.
EDIT: Make that three college pitchers! In the second round, the Cubs took RHP Cory Abbott from Loyola Marymount. Abbott wasn't much of a draft prospect coming into this season, but he said learned to throw a slider from watching video of Noah Syndergaard. Apparently it worked, because he finished the season going 11-1 with a 1.58 ERA and 119 strikeouts over 91.1 innings. He only walked 25 batters. He even threw a perfect game against BYU on March 25. Abbott is a short righthander (6'0", which is short for baseball players) and he doesn't throw hard, although he usually sits 90-92 mph. But the slider is a hard, upper 80s slider and could be a nasty pitch.
Here's Abbott's perfecto: