Luke Little received MLB draft attention as a freshman left-handed pitcher at San Jacinto College (Texas) last year.
Command issues hindered Little’s draft stock and caused major league teams to fall short of his signing bonus demands. Little returned to San Jacinto this spring in hopes of showing more consistency in a full-time starting pitcher role.
Little, a 6-foot-8, 225-pound lefty, displayed improvement on the mound in his first five appearances. But due to the coronavirus crisis, the junior college level canceled the remainder of the baseball season.
It was a difficult blow for Little, who’s projected to go in the early rounds of this year’s draft. He returned to his home state of North Carolina on Monday to train and workout in preparation for the next step in his baseball career, regardless of if that’s the professional ranks this summer or the University of South Carolina in the fall.
“It sucks for me as a JUCO player because I feel like I as a JUCO player have to prove myself more than anyone that’s trying to get drafted in the top-five rounds,” Little said. “Hopefully, if they push the draft back past summer ball, I can use the summer ball to showcase myself in front of a lot of scouts.”
Little posted a 2.04 ERA with 69 strikeouts and 36 walks allowed in 35 1/3 innings as a starter and reliever in 2019.
He returned to San Jacinto for his sophomore season and expected to work exclusively as a starter. That plan changed after his first start, as he “tweaked my back a little bit,” he said. He returned to the mound and pitched in four games out of the bullpen. He was expected to return to the rotation in the immediate future but then the season got canceled, ending those plans.
He recorded a 2.00 ERA with 17 strikeouts and three walks allowed in nine innings this spring.
Before his sophomore season, Little worked on his mechanics in hopes of keeping his delivery in sync. He believes that work in the offseason is what led to better results with his command this spring, he said.
Although working as a starting pitcher was his goal throughout his first two collegiate seasons, he views himself as an overpowering late-inning reliever in the pro ranks.
“I think I’m more of a closer but a starter is more appealing in the draft,” Little said.
Little throws a four-seam fastball, slider, sinker, changeup and curveball. His fastball is his best offering and sits 97 to 99 mph out of the bullpen. He also locates the pitch well in all quadrants of the strike zone.
His slider is his best off-speed pitch and serves as a wipeout offering that generates a high-percentage of swings and misses.
Little averaged 17.58 strikeouts per nine innings as a freshman. He followed that up with a 17.00 K/9 rate in his abbreviated sophomore season this spring.
“My ability to get people out is my biggest strength,” Little said. “I feel like I can get anyone out in the country.”
In terms of his pitches, Little wants to refine his changeup and curveball. He also hopes to show more consistency and better results with his command.
Besides his skills, Little has focused on his mentality on the mound. After watching 6-8 right-handed pitcher Jackson Rutledge use a fearless mentality to dominate opposing hitters last season at San Jacinto, Little has tried to incorporate that into his game.
Rutledge was the 17th overall pick by the Washington Nationals in last year’s draft. Little said playing alongside Rutledge for one season helped him learn what it takes to be an elite pitcher.
“My demeanor and approach to pitching are things I want to improve on,” Little said. “I feel like last year when I made my starts, I didn’t really have a strong attitude towards the game when I pitched. I just went out there and pitched. I didn’t think. I just threw. This year, I’ve worked on it and have had more of a (stronger) attitude and been angrier when I pitch.”
Little committed to South Carolina, which he described as his dream school, in November 2018.
He was a late bloomer and opted against attending a four-year university coming out of high school. He wanted to refine his skills at the junior college level in hopes of giving him a quicker chance at starting a pro career or prepping him to play at a Power Five program in the future.
Although he’s hopeful the draft works out in his favor, he’s eager to play for South Carolina next season if that’s what ends up being the best route for him.
“I just hope people see how good I am and give me the chance to play professionally this year,” Little said.
Read more stories on top 2020 MLB draft prospects here.
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for five years. He’s interviewed 191 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.