Cubs Getting a Little Help for Bullpen, Literally

The Cubs are finally getting a lefty arm in the bullpen with the promotion of Luke Little, a towering reliever whose social media infamy — he hit 105 mph during a recorded bullpen — spurred the Cubs to select him in the fourth round of the truncated 2020 draft. Little posted to his Instagram story Wednesday morning that he was in the Des Moines airport and Des Moine Register reporter Tommy Birch subsequently confirmed the promotion.

A promotion has long been suspected for the 6-foot-8 southpaw, who was bumped to Triple-A Iowa just over a month ago and continued to put up huge strikeout numbers. The smoke got a little thicker when he pitched on back-to-back days for the first time, then folks started to see flames when he hadn’t pitched since August 31.

Little actually began his professional career as a starter, a role he maintained through four April starts for South Bend, but things really took off for him once he was moved to the bullpen. We saw something similar with Daniel Palencia, who was briefly placed on the development list to transition to a relief role and was promoted to Iowa immediately thereafter.

The Cubs are likewise planning to have Ben Brown work as a reliever once he’s back from injury, a move that signals his potential promotion later in the month.

Little has put up monster strikeout numbers this season, logging 105 Ks over 63.2 innings (14.84 K/9) across three levels of the system. He had 21 strikeouts in just under 12 innings with Iowa, so facing more experienced hitters didn’t slow him down a bit. Contol isn’t his strong suit and he’s going to walk his share of batters — 42 this year — but he’s only allowed one homer and the whiffs mitigate most of his mistakes.

With a fastball that reaches triple digits and that big downward tilt, Little bears down on hitters and makes his stuff seem even harder than it already is. He’s also got a slider that gets a ton of whiffs and harnessing his changeup would make him even more dangerous. Having a bullpen weapon like this will be good for the Cubs.

Beyond just what it says about the team’s immediate outlook, Little’s promotion offers further evidence of just how far the Cubs’ scouting and development philosophies have changed over the last few years. He was seen as something of a reach in that five-round draft because he was a really raw prospect out of San Jacinto College, definitely not the kind of arm they’d have selected previously.

Ah, but the 2020 draft was the first presided over by VP of scouting Dan Kantrovitz and it followed what had been a borderline disastrous draft the year prior. The previous regime had been far too conservative in both talent evaluation and prospect development, particularly when it came to pitching, which is why Jason McLeod was moved into a player personnel role at the MLB level before eventually being ushered out altogether.

Little isn’t the only example of the changes the Cubs have made, he’s just the most recent. It’ll be really fitting if he’s able to pitch Wednesday with fellow lefty Jordan Wicks making the start.

In order to make room on the roster, righty Shane Greene has been designated for assignment. That’s a lot better than my fear that Adbert Alzolay might be heading to the IL.

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