Jack Little may well become a big-league pitcher. Ditto a member of a big-league front office. Drafted in the fifth round this year out of Stanford University, the 21-year-old right-hander possesses the potential to do both. For now, he’s taking the mound for the Great Lakes Loons, the low-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
On Friday, I asked Little about the genesis of his low-three-quarter arm slot.
“That’s a good question, honestly,” replied the righty, who has a 2.05 ERA in 22 professional innings. “In high school I was more high three-quarters — a normal three-quarters slot — but then I kind of just naturally moved lower. It wasn’t intentional, I just did it.”
Success followed. Little began getting more swings-and-misses with his fastball, and unlike many pitchers who move to a lower slot, the movement wasn’t downward. “I started missing above barrels a lot more,” Little explained. “I became more deceptive, and while I’m not 98 [mph] — I’m only low 90s — it kind of gets on the hitter, and plays more up in the zone.”
His slider is his best secondary pitch, which didn’t used to be the case. Prior to moving into the closer role at Stanford in his sophomore season, Little’s changeup was his go-to off-speed. He subsequently became fastball-heavy, with his changeup in his back pocket, and his slider a reasonably reliable No. 2 option… this despite its being, as he now knows, markedly unrefined.
“I wasn’t putting it on the right axis before,” explained Little, whose bullpen sessions are now blessed with elite, Rapsodo-aided instruction. “I had the wrong idea of where to point the nose of the ball. My thumb was stuck on the seam, so it was kind of grabbing the ball at the last second. I was putting pure gyrospin on it, as opposed to spinning it on the axis I needed. Now I know how to spin my slider.”
His ability to learn is beyond reproach. Little majored in Management, Science, and Engineering at Stanford, and the possibility of one day working in a front office has crossed his mind. A term project he did with a few of his Cardinal teammates is proof in the pudding.
“We tried to predict the Average Annual Value of free agents signing contracts this past offseason,” Little explained. “We put in a linear regression model, and scraped a bunch of online data from places like Baseball-reference. We used a bunch of inputs, including age, years played, and WAR. We used FanGraphs to do research on what kind of predictors to use. There are a lot of great articles on FanGraphs.”
They got an A on the project.
Carlos Carrasco threw to hitters for the first time in two months on Friday. The Indians right-hander, who was diagnosed with leukemia in June, faced three prospects from Cleveland’s Midwest League affiliate, the Lake County Captains. One of them was Quentin Holmes, whom the Indians took in the second round of last year’s draft out of a Queens, New York high school.
“It was an incredible environment,” the 20-year-old outfielder told me yesterday. “There were the cameras, and all the people who came out to see him throw 25 pitches against a couple of minor leaguers. Even though it wasn’t a real game, being a hitter against a guy like Carrasco, a well-respected major leaguer, was a cool experience.”
Holmes cited Carrasco’s demeanor on the mound, opining that he looked locked in during the session. He said that Carrasco had movement on his pitches, deception with his curveball, and that he was sequencing and locating, rather than simply throwing the ball over the plate. Holmes struck out twice, then looped a single over the shortstop’s head, in his three looks at the rehabbing righty.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Today’s column includes something unique: a guest contribution, courtesy of Paris-based singer/novelist Elliott Murphy. Internationally acclaimed, Murphy has recorded over two dozen albums, the first of which,“Aquashow,” drew Bob Dylan comparisons from Rolling Stone Magazine in 1973. A New York native — he was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame by Billy Joel last year — Murphy grew up with baseball before chasing rock stardom, and then moving to France.
Baseball from an ex-pat point of view, by Elliott Murphy
“Like so many suburban kids who grew up in the 1950s, my bond with baseball began with me playing shortstop in the Garden City Little League, where I distinctly remember hitting a home run at my first game to the utter amazement of the coach … and me. I liked playing the game well enough, but what I really loved was collecting baseball cards which came with rectangular pink sheets of bubble gum and sometimes, if I got lucky, photos of my two New York Yankees heroes, Phil Rizzuto and Whitey Ford. Ironically, even though these guys were my preferred players, and I dug their classy pin striped uniforms, I was brought up to believe that the only team who deserved my unwavering loyalty were the Brooklyn Dodgers.
“I grew up on Long Island, so within driving distance you had Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan — hosting the NY Giants — and, of course, venerable Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, where the Dodgers made history when Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color line.
“My father was born and bred in Brooklyn, a Flatbush homeboy, and he took me along to Dodgers games at a very early age. Not sure if I understood the nuances of the scoring, but I still remember the excitement of watching the Dodgers play in the 1955 World Series when the ‘damn Yankees’ beat them again.
“Once the Dodgers moved to LA, I needed to replace them with another underdog team, a team also taunted by the high-falutin Yankees My allegiance gradually shifted to the Boston Red Sox. Babe Ruth may have deserted them when he took the money and ran to the Yankees, but in my day they had the great Ted Williams who was never tempted to jump ship. But I’m no fool. I never wear my Red Sox cap when I visit the mean streets of Manhattan.
“I’ve lived in France for nearly thirty years now, where no one understands baseball at all, but I still tried to do my duty and instill in my son Gaspard the essentials of the game. I bought him a glove and bat as soon as he was old enough to use them, and we often went to the Bois de Boulogne in Paris on Sunday afternoons where we would pitch and hit and run to the utter amazement of passing Parisians. I must have done something right, because whenever Gaspard is visiting LA he makes sure to catch a Dodgers game if they’re playing. The torch is passed!
“Amazingly, my Rawlings Mickey Mantle glove, left over from my Little League days, has followed me to Paris and it sits on my desk, a reminder of everything that was sacred to me before I picked up a guitar and eventually made a career of music. Still, every once in a while, after my French wife has gone to sleep, I pick that glove up, put it on, make a fist with my right hand and punch into its well-worn pocket and feel something stir deep within my soul.”
Justin Dunn, a 23-year-old right-hander in the Seattle system, has a 3.70 ERA in 22 starts for the Double-A Arkansas Travelers. A first-round pick by the Mets out of Boston College in 2016, Dunn was acquired by the Mariners in December 2018 as part of the seven-player Robinson Cano trade.
Nolan Kingham, a 23-year-old right-hander (as of today) in the Atlanta system, has a 3.66 ERA in 24 starts between three levels. Currently with Double-A Mississippi, the younger brother of Toronto Blue pitcher Nick Kingham was drafted in the 12th round by the Braves last year out of the University of Texas.
Spencer Horwitz, a 21-year-old first baseman/outfielder in the Toronto system, is slashing .332/.388/.462 with the Bluefield Blue Jays in the rookie-level Appalachian League. Horwitz was drafted in the 24th round this year out of Radford University.
Blaine Crim, a 22-year-old first baseman in the Texas system, is slashing .357/.411/.560 with the Spokane Indians in the rookie-level Northwest League. Crim was drafted by the Rangers in the 19th round this year out of Mississippi College.
Felix Pie is slashing .387/.474/.677 with Bravos de Leon in the Mexican League. The 34-year-old outfielder, whose last big-league action came with the Pirates in 2013, has 22 home runs in 371 plate appearances.
“I have no idea,” the Angels skipper admitted. “I’ve only seen him once. He wasn’t in big league camp with us. We acquired him last year, and I didn’t see him in the minor leagues when I was a special assistant. So, the first look I got at him was in Cincinnati.”
Those comments came last weekend in Boston, where Sandoval followed up his five-innings-two-runs-allowed-debut against the Reds with a comparative clunker against the Red Sox. He’s since taken the hill a third time, putting up a passable, albeit truncated outing, against the White Sox two days ago. Overall, the No. 16 prospect in the LA system has allowed nine runs, and fanned 15, in 14 innings.
Sandoval self-identifies as “a guy who changes speeds, and throws any pitch in any count… trying to keep hitters off balance while pitching to my strengths.” He considers his changeup — “your standard four-seam changeup” — to be his best secondary pitch. Usage backs that up. The 2015 11th-round pick has gone to it a full 30% of the time since his call-up.
He was originally an Astro. The Angels acquired Sandoval last summer in exchange for Martin Maldonado. Cutting his professional teeth in the Houston system was, not surprisingly, a plus positive.
“I went to instructs after I was drafted, and that’s when I kind of got the whole spiel about my arsenal,” Sandoval told me. “They showed us where our stuff played, and told us to trust that. “For instance, I tend to pitch up in the zone with my fastball, based on how it moves.”
As for the comparing the pitching approach wants-and-wishes of the Astros and Angels organizations, the Mission Viejo, California native sees more similarities than differences.
“It’s pretty much the same,” Sandoval claimed. “Throw any pitch in any count. Don’t leave anything in your pocket. Give it your all. That’s it, really.”
Prior to Thursday’s game in Detroit, Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais was asked how many times he caught a pitcher he’d never met before. After saying that it was quite a few, he shared a good story.
“We had a right-hander named Amaury Telemaco,” said Servais, who caught for four teams during an 11-year playing career. “He came up with the Cubs [in 1996], and his first outing was against the Astros. [Craig] Biggio, [Jeff} Bagwell; the Astros had a really good team. Anyway, we called him up, and his pitch was a slider. He could throw a slider whenever he needed to.
“I’m warming him up in the bullpen, and his slider’s not breaking. It’s a cement mixer. I say to the pitching coach as I’m walking in from the bullpen, ’Dude, I thought this guy’s pitch was a slider.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, I know. That’s what they said. Maybe he’ll find it during the game.’
“The game starts, and the slider’s not breaking. [But] the hitters haven’t seen it before — it’s like a backup slider — and they keep popping it up, or rolling it over. He’s got a [no hitter] through five innings. And he’s got nothing. I’m like, ‘This is incredible.’ He had some deception, but be had a fastball that was 90-91 [mph] and a slider that was right straight ahead.
“He goes out for the sixth inning, and gives up a single. The crowd at Wrigley Field gets on his feet and gives him a standing ovation. He takes his hat off, and tips his cap! I can hear the Astros dugout screaming at him… He was rolling. It was unbelievable.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
The River City Rascals, a member of the independent Frontier League for the past 21 years, will cease operations following this season. Zach Spedden has the story at Baseball Digest.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
The Los Angeles Angels are the only MLB team that hasn’t won a game this year while scoring two-or-fewer runs.
Miguel Cabrera hit his 574th career double earlier this week, tying him with Bobby Abreu and Charlie Gehringer for 23rd on the all-time list. Cabrera and Abreu have the most doubles among players born in Venezuela.
Bobby Cox managed 29 season and earned 158 ejections, the most of any manager. Connie Mack managed for 53 seasons and was tossed just once. His lone ejection came in his second season, when he was a player-manager.
The Cincinnati Reds are the only MLB team that has never had a Japanese player on their big-league roster.
In 2004, the Cleveland Indians either hit or allowed a home run in 74 consecutive road games. That’s a single-season MLB record.
On this date in 2007, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Micah Owings went 4 for 6, with a double and two home runs, in a 12-6 win over the Atlanta Braves.
From 1955-1964, Detroit Tigers right-hander Frank Lary went 28-13 against the Yankees. Making that especially notable is that New York won nine American League pennants over that 10-year period, and against all other teams, Lary went 98-100.
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.