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Cubs Prospect Perspective: Brendon Little

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He was progressing fairly well — until he was injured in the Arizona Fall League.

Brendon Little pitching in the Arizona Fall Leagu
Photo by Jill Weisleder/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Brendon Little

Left-handed pitcher. Born August 11, 1996, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
2017 Draft, Cubs 1st Round pick from College of Central Florida (27th overall pick)

Sometimes, if we’re being honest, a bit of mea culpa applies. I didn’t like the Little selection. If I remember correctly, I preferred Griffin Canning, who had pitched well at UCLA. One other name (similar to Little) was Nate Pearson, who I’m going to give an entire paragraph, even though he was not selected by the Cubs. Instead, he went to the Blue Jays with the next pick (28th overall).

Pearson was from the College of Central Florida, as well. Little had more hype two months before the draft. And five weeks before the draft. And three weeks before the draft. Roughly the week before the draft, Pearson started posting really impressive velocity numbers, which would continue the two or three weeks after the draft. If the draft were held three weeks later, not only would Pearson have gone before Little at 27, he might have gone top 15. However, the draft is when the draft is. When the proctor at the SAT says “Pencils down,” your pencil goes down. Whatever Pearson does or doesn’t do in MLB, the Cubs weren’t the only team that responded a bit late to Pearson. Draft Day Warriors who do no research on anyone before the draft, unfettered by those time concerns, might have thought the Cubs drafted the wrong guy. Maybe they did. For the DDWs’ opinion to actually matter, he might want to play by the rules of deadlines.

Perhaps they should have done more due diligence on Pearson, who has already reached MLB. Information becomes known when it becomes known. I wasn’t sold on either pitcher. Really, the 2017 Draft in the late 20s? There weren’t all that many names that seemed all that impressive, of those legitimately under discussion. I preferred Alex Lange, who the Cubs would double back and get at 30. Lange would be traded (with Paul Richan) to the Tigers in the Nick Castellanos trade.

Little, in the Cubs organization, struggled. In 16⅓ innings in his first fractional season, Little walked nine and gave up 21 hits for the Eugene Emeralds. In 2018, he started 21 of 22 outings for South Bend, sporting a 5.15 ERA in Low-A. I had yet to be converted.

Little had started his college career at North Carolina. In his freshman season, it took four games and four innings for him to work his way out of the favor of the coaching staff. Not only wasn’t he a leverage guy, he wasn’t going to get used. As he began to realize he wasn’t going to get used, he started working with a new release point. The Heels weren’t going to use him, but he was a different sort of pitcher for State College of Florida, and received a look in the prestigious Cape Cod League in 2016, increasing his exposure.

2019 saw Little start 12 games in the pipeline. His first two were in late June in the Arizona League. Those bought him starts in the Midwest League, where he was much better the second time around. His last four starts were in the High-A Carolina League. He struggled in the first and last, but was generally good in the middle two. As with just about everyone else, he played in no games in 2020. Which lead to the “Little as a leverage reliever” portion of his pipeline development in 2021.

As with quite a few pipeline relievers in 2021, he did reasonably well, before and after a promotion. He pitched thirteen times for Tennessee, fanning 27 in 23⅓ innings. Since he was going to be Rule 5 Draft-eligible in December, it made sense to promote him to Triple-A, especially since the marginally useful Triple-A relievers were getting promotions to Chicago. Little had a few ugly outings with the I-Cubs that spiked his numbers upward. Two things were obvious. He had mid-90s stuff from the left side, and he possesses a developing back-foot slider.

When assessing players for November protection, who they are right now is a portion of the picture. It’s absurd to claim “the present” is zero percent of the consideration. Similarly, the present isn’t 100 percent. “Who the player figures to develop into” is probably half of the picture, or even more. Do you think the Cubs ought to invest a 40-man roster spot over the winter in a lefty that’s already mid-90s with that developing back-foot slider?

Phrasing it differently, if you were researching a player that was designated for assignment, and the same were noted, would you want the Cubs to place a claim? I certainly would be intrigued.

The Cubs decided to send Little to the Arizona Fall League. If he had pitched well enough to represent what’s been painted, he could have earned a 40-man roster spot, a spot I doubted he’d ever get. Little has developed better than I expected he would. With that, and other information, the last few years, I’ve leaned quite a bit more toward high-velocity types. Is velocity the entire equation? I don’t think so. However, dealing with October and November questions, Little seemed a very reasonable 40-man roster add on November 19 — until he was shut down with an injury early in November after pitching just one AFL inning.

This news broke late Thursday, the explanation for shutting Little down from AFL play:

Poll

Brendon Little was throwing mid-90s from the left side, with a developing back foot slider, before an AFL injury. Is he worth a 40-man roster spot?

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    Yes
    (64 votes)
  • 33%
    Yes, until he was injured
    (94 votes)
  • 43%
    No
    (123 votes)
281 votes total Vote Now