Breaking in recent trend, the Chicago Cubs focused on pitching in last year’s draft, adding two big arms with their first two selections.
After adding the likes of Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant with early draft picks, last year, Theo Epstein shifted gears. The Chicago Cubs went in heavily on pitching talent, including their first two picks – coming in at 27th and 30th overall.
First, Chicago tapped left-handed pitcher Brendon Little out from State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota. He came off a 15-start campaign in Florida, pitching to a 2.53 ERA across 85 1/3 innings. He averaged a staggering 14.03 punchouts per nine, evidence of his big-arm potential.
As of Monday’s opening round of the 2018 MLB Draft, the 21-year-old finds himself with the Single-A South Bend Cubs. MLB.com ranks him as the Cubs’ sixth-best prospect, unlikely to see Chicago anytime before 2020.
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At the moment the 21-year-old left-hander finds himself at Single-A with the South Bend Cubs.
Early struggles for Little
According to MLB.com, Little is the Cubs’ sixth-ranked prospect with an estimated arrival big league date of 2020. And, given the immense struggles early in his professional career, it’s not hard to figure out why.
Last year in his first taste of Minor League action, the southpaw pitched to a 1.837 WHIP and 1.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio with Low-A Eugene. He allowed nearly a dozen hits per nine, walking another five per nine innings. In short, he hardly helped himself out.
This year, with Class-A South Bend, has been more of the same for the 2017 first-rounder. In 15 games, 14 of which have been starts, Little has a 6.52 ERA and 1.488 WHIP. He’s cut his walk numbers down (to 4.1 per nine inning pitched) a bit – but there’s room for important.
Despite these numbers, the Cubs have faith in the youngster. He is projected to pitch as a starter when he reaches the big leagues.
Little has a fastball that sits comfortably between 93-96 with his best pitch being a curveball that sits in the mid-80s. He still needs to develop his changeup, but he is headed in the right direction – at least in terms of developing a big-league worthy repertoire.
A big right-hander from a top college program
With the 30th pick in last year’s draft, the Cubs took right-handed hurler Alex Lange out of Louisiana State University (LSU).
The 23-year-old joined fellow first rounder Little with Eugene after being selected. He fared better than his southpaw counterpart, though, pitching to a 1.286 WHIP with a 12.5 strikeouts per nine clip in a limited four start sample size.
This year, he continued trending up – pitching to a 3.26 ERA in 47 innings of work with Myrtle Beach. Over that span, the righty’s strikeout numbers fell in a big way, but he’s also walked fewer than two batters per nine (a 4.56 strikeout-to-walk ratio).
MLB.com ranks him as the Cubs’ number five prospect with an estimated big league arrival date of 2019. Given his early success and ability to effectively pitch to contact, his earlier ETA makes a lot of sense.
Like Little, Lange’s best pitch is a wipeout curveball. He also has a fastball that sits in the mid-90s. He still needs polishing on his sinker and changeup, but he has been turning heads in the minors and seems poised to be a quality starter in the big leagues.
Welcome to the future
Lange and Little are going to be critical parts of the Cubs in the very near feature.
Face it, Jon Lester is getting older with each passing day. With the cost of high quality pitching skyrocketing, the hope for teams is to develop quality pitching in the minors. From the looks of things, the Cubs have two highly talented pitchers to build around when the time comes.