Brendon Little – Picture by Dylan Heuer
Sometimes I think Brendon Little gets the shaft when it comes to his coverage of his career. There were a lot of expectations placed upon him because he was a first round pick by the Cubs in 2017. But if you go back and actually look at who the Cubs drafted, the expectations now look to be quite ridiculous. When the Cubs drafted Little, he was at the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota. It was his second year of collegiate baseball. The year before he had only thrown seven innings at the University of North Carolina and then transferred after his freshman year.
In reality, he did not have much experience against advanced competition. He was, after all, basically a freshman coming to the pros out of junior college. That’s a huge leap in talent levels.
In draft reports, Little supposedly was throwing in the low-to-mid 90s, topping out at 97. His best pitch was supposed to be his curve which many prognosticators and evaluators labeled as plus.
He debuted that summer in Mesa and Eugene and that mid 90s velocity was nowhere to be seen. That can happen a lot when pitchers pitch a full season, shut it down for a month or two, and then trying to ramp it back up.
In 2018, Little struggled as he posted a 5+ ERA at South Bend, which was then the Cubs Low-A squad. I saw him a couple of times that summer and loved his curve ball, but that was basically it. If he located his fastball, he could do well. But those starts were few and far between.
Little did not begin his 2019 season until July. But he was fantastic for South Bend that summer in five games with a sub 2.00 ERA. By the beginning of August, he just looked the part of the first round pick.
But when he got to Myrtle Beach that August, the wheels started coming off again as he stepped up a level in competition. He only made four appearances with the Pelicans and the injury bug hit again after he already missed half the year.
That fall, Little went to the instructional league and Jim Callis reported that Little was back throwing in the upper 90s. There was a bit of a buzz of excitement about him heading into 2020. Unfortunately, the pandemic struck.
He did not make his 2021 debut until June and starter Brendon Little was no more. He was going to be all about the bullpen. It worked great for his career. At Tennessee, he had a 3.06 ERA out of the pen for Tennessee and he looked to be improving each outing. He got to call to Iowa in August and his new slider seemed to work very well there as he did not allow run in six appearances.
The Cubs were so excited with a Little‘s progress as a reliever and the addition of the slider that they sent him to the Arizona Fall League to make up for some lost time. Little didn’t even last one inning before he was removed from the game and shut down as a precaution over a possible arm injury.
Because of the injury, the Cubs did not add Little to the 40-man roster and took a risk that other teams would not be willing to take him or were scared of the injury in the AFL.
That move is paying off.
This year, the 25-year-old Little debuted at Iowa in May, his earliest season start since 2018. He’s just been lights out at Iowa this year. In May, he’s made six appearances and has not allowed to run in six innings and he struck out eight. Opponents are only hitting .120 off him, which is pretty darn low. At some point in June, I would not be surprised to see Little get the call to Chicago as it looks like the slider has totally changed how he pitches and it also impacts the effectiveness of his curveball. He’s been throwing in the 93-94 mile an hour range consistently the last year and that’s good.