Cubs Prospect Luke Little Is a Large Southpaw With Low-Slot Sweep

Luke Little
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Luke Little was an afterthought when our 2023 Chicago Cubs Top Prospects list came out in early July. Pitching for Double-A Tennessee at the time, the now–23-year-old southpaw garnered no more than an honorable mention on a list that ran 52 players deep. His stock has since risen markedly. By season’s end, he had earned a big league cup of coffee and thrown 6.2 scoreless innings over seven appearances. Featuring a high-octane heater and a sweeper delivered from a low arm slot, he fanned a dozen batters and allowed just five hits.

His numbers across three levels of the minor leagues were every bit as impressive. Over 36 appearances, all but four as a reliever, the 2020 fourth-round pick out of San Jacinto College had 105 strikeouts and surrendered 40 hits in 63.2 innings. He’s an imposing figure on the mound: The Charlotte, North Carolina native stands 6-foot-8 and weighs 270 pounds.

Little discussed his repertoire and delivery prior to a late-September game at Wrigley Field.


David Laurila: Who are you on the mound? For instance, do you identify as a power pitcher?

Luke Little: “I like to think I’m a power pitcher. Obviously, I throw hard. At the same time, I like to think that I have good offspeed pitches. I’ve been really comfortable with my slider, and I’ve also got a good feel for my splitter now, although I haven’t thrown it too much.”

Laurila: How hard are you throwing?

Little: “Last night [September 19 against the Pirates], I sat 97 [mph] with my fastball, and my slider was 81–82. I was up to 99 with my fastball at the beginning of the year, [which is] the hardest I’ve ever thrown, when I was a starter [with High-A South Bend].”

Laurila: Is starting something you aspire to do down the road?

Little: “Whatever the team wants. I like relieving, though. I recover well as a reliever, only going one or two innings, whereas as a starter, throwing bullpens kind of… not so much tired me out, but I didn’t bounce back very well on that five-day recovery basis. So I guess I’d say that I like relieving more.”

Laurila: What is the movement profile on your fastball?

Little: “It’s kind of a dead-zoner. There are carry guys, there are sinker guys, and I’m kind of right in the middle, like a dead-zone fastball. We’re working to get more carry on it. But my deception helps me out a lot.”

Laurila: You don’t get a ton of movement.

Little: “Not a ton. I do get a decent amount of run, anywhere from 11 to 16, but it’s not like a sinker. It doesn’t get enough depth to be called a sinker.”

Laurila: You mentioned deception. Can you elaborate on that?

Little: “Kind of how I hide the ball. I also come from a very far off slot. I pitch from like three and a half feet to the side of home plate. I’m also starting on the farthest first base side [of the rubber]. My slider is very effective against lefties, because it’s basically starting behind them. That’s part of the deception. And while I’m coming from all the way across the side of the mound, I’m still getting good extension [98th percentile per Baseball Savant].”

Laurila: Being tall obviously doesn’t hurt. That said, what is your height and weight?

Little: “I’m 6-foot-8 and 270 pounds. I think I’m listed at 220, at least I was at the beginning of the year, but I probably haven’t been 220 since I started college.”

Laurila: Is your fastball your best pitch?

Little: “I like my slider more. When you throw hard, everyone wants your answer to be ‘power fastball,’ but my slider is my best strike pitch. I can throw it for strikes any count. It gets anywhere from 16 to 20 inches of sweep and zero inches of vertical carry. It’s really more of a sweeper than a slider. I had a slider last year, it had a lot more depth than sweep, but we worked on it in the lab when I got to South Bend [in August 2022], and it turned into a sweeper. It took a bit to get used to, but I had good feel for it by the time I came into this season.”

Laurila: You mentioned having a splitter. What’s the story there?

Little: “I was throwing a changeup to start last year as a starter, and it started to develop into a ‘splange’ — like a splitter-changeup. It’s like a split-finger, but you still have some of your other fingers on the ball. I was spreading them out a little bit, just messing around with grips, and they basically told me, ‘Hey, it’s not going to be perfect, so just kind of figure it out yourself. See what feels good.’ This year, I started taking my fingers completely off the ball, and it started working a lot better.”

Laurila: I assume your arm slot played a role in moving away from a conventional changeup.

Little: “Yes. I just couldn’t get pronation on it. I got through the changeup good, it was like 88 [mph], but I couldn’t get the pronation to finish it. If I threw 10 changeups, probably eight of them would be cut changeups. It was an inconsistent pitch for me. Coming from a low arm slot and all the way across, I’m not very good at getting pronation. The splitter makes it a lot easier.”

Laurila: Turning your splitter into a consistent weapon would give you three solid pitches. While you enjoy relieving, that could potentially put starter back on the table for you.

Little: “I don’t know. I mean, there are several relievers in the big leagues who have three pitches, or even four pitches. I’m just going to throw my stuff, and if they put me as starter, I’ll be a starter. If they keep me a reliever, I’ll be a reliever. Whatever it takes to be in the big leagues and help the team.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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