By Todd Johnson
I am kind of digging the Brendon Little experiment. Some of you may look at his stats and wondering what is there to dig? A 6.70 ERA? a WHIP of 1.67? A batting average against of .270? His first start was not something to hang your hat on as he threw 32 pitches in only one inning of work. Since then, he shown a lot of growth, even if it doesn’t show up in some of his stats. Over the course of last month, he looks to be a very fast learner.
Little was the Cubs number one draft pick in 2017. After throwing 85 innings in junior college, Little was limited on to what he could throw for the Eugene Emeralds last summer. Statistically, it did not go well in his 16.1 IP as his ERA was 9.37 and his velocity was down to 89-90 mph.
When I think of Brendon Little, I draw two lines. In between the lines is a big gap – that’s his development. To the left of the left line, that is who Brandon Little was when the Cubs drafted him – a left-handed pitcher who threw 91 to 94, occasionally topping out at 97. He’s also a pitcher who doesn’t have the experience of an average college coming out of the draft. Little only threw four innings for North Carolina his freshman year. He then transferred to State College of Florida, a junior college at Manatee-Sarasota, where he put up 85 innings in what would be his sophomore year. Most college pitchers have three years of experience. Little basically has one with just 89 innings. I am OK in giving him some time to develop and adjust.
What Little is going to be doing the next two years is learning to tap into his talent and development at South Bend and Myrtle Beach. Maybe, if all goes well, he could even see Tennessee. To be honest, there’s no rush to move him along. He’ll turn 22-years-old a couple of weeks before the end of the this season and 23 at the end of the 2019 season. He’s pretty young with a lot to learn.
Regardless of where he is in the Cubs system, it’s really all about fastball command. And for a Little, that has improved in every start this year. You can forget about his ERA, his FIP, his BAA, and his WHIP. Rather than look at the totals, you have to think of his stats more as line graph that shows the differences per game. A few stats I want to see Little improve over time include the number of pitches that he throws, the number of innings, and the number of fastballs he throws for strikes (which I would have to go back and watch).
Here’s what some of those stats were for his five appearances to date in 2018.
Pitches per outing – 35, 40, 79, 84, 92
Innings per outing – 0.2, 2, 4.2, 4.2, 6
Strikes per outing – 18, 21, 48, 52, 61
Add in the fact that batting average against has also improved each start along with his WHIP and Ks and things are getting better.
One thing I’ve always taken into consideration with Little is that there is a huge talent difference between junior college and professional baseball. He looks to be trusting his stuff more and attacking rather than nibbling. When I watched him pitch last Saturday in Peoria, I liked what I saw. He was more aggressive at times.
While he is getting stretched out and his numbers are improving, it is going to take some time to get the run totals down. Another month should do it. Now that he’s at 6 innings, he can work on getting down to 3-4 runs allowed, then down to 2, and down to 1 or zero. He’s not going to throw shutouts every night, but he has come a long way in a very short time.
Getting back to the line analogy: The line on the right is the kind of pitcher that he’s going to become. I don’t think that’s written in stone just yet. I love his curveball and if he can continue to improve each and every start. I don’t know what that third pitch is going to be just yet. It could be a change, a cutter, or even a slider. That is still to be determined and that could take years to figure out and master.
For this year, though, I think there’s gonna be a dramatic difference between the Brendon Little of April and the Brendon Little at the end of June. He seems to be learning and improving at a very quick pace. That’s a good sign.