CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Luke Little had this year’s Major League Baseball draft on his radar, but he waited to make any big plans.
Little, a 19-year old left-handed pitcher from Charlotte, weighed the fact that this year’s draft had been cut from 40 rounds to just five. His sophomore campaign at San Jacinto, a junior college in Pasadena, Texas, ended abruptly due to the coronavirus pandemic, and he was slated to transfer and play for South Carolina in the fall.
Little returned in mid-March to Charlotte, where conversations around Showcase Baseball Academy were all about the draft. Jake Robbins, SBA vice president, told Little he should expect to be picked and prepare for professional baseball.
But Little stayed level. He hadn’t made it big - yet.
“If I get drafted, great, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Little told Robbins.
That bridge came into view May 8, when a video of the 6-foot-8 Little throwing a 105-mph fastball during a bullpen session at SBA started to gain traction on Twitter.
The video, which has since eclipsed 777,000 views, drew attention from MLB stars Christian Yelich and Josh Donaldson, and Little emerged on draft boards with perfect timing - just over a month before he’d hear his name called in the fourth round of the MLB draft, going 117th overall to the Chicago Cubs.
“I think (the video) really helped bump up his stock,” said Robbins, who recorded and posted the video. “It wasn’t just a fluke that he hit it.”
AN EXPLOSIVE FASTBALL
It’s possible Little had extra juice flowing the day of his explosive bullpen session. His father, Ecford Little, underwent open-heart surgery the day before, and as Little left to train that morning, he told his father a goal he set.
“Dad, I’m gonna hit 102 for you today,” he said.
When Little arrived at SBA, he told Robbins about the goal. Little warmed up with his friend, Bryson Linkous, while Robbins prepared a high school catcher for pitches from “95 to 98” mph.
Little’s first pitch registered 99 mph, and Robbins pulled out the camera. He watched the Pocket Radar crawl up into the 100s and let Little know when he hit 103, over his velocity goal.
The next fastball was loud. Kyle Crockett, a relief pitcher in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, turned around and asked Robbins for the velocity - 105 mph. They stayed calm, and Robbins kept recording.
“It felt really good,” Little said. “Then I looked over and everyone was gasping and stuff.”
The fastest pitch ever recorded was 105.1 mph by then-Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman against the Padres in San Diego in 2010.
Robbins tweeted the video, which he said was met by “naysayers” who didn’t believe the reading. Robbins said that of Little’s 15 fastballs that day, only one registered under 100 mph, and he put together a compilation video to show Little’s consistency.
“People asked me, ‘Do you really think that was real?’ ” Robbins said. “I said, ‘Why not?’ ”
Robbins didn’t let Little know he hit 105 until he finished the bullpen session. He told his dad right away.
OFF TO THE CUBS
Robbins said he believed the Twitter video helped boost Little’s draft stock, and when the second day of the MLB draft rolled around, Little waited in his Matthews home, getting into the fourth round without hearing his name.
He answered a call from his adviser, Adam Rosenthal, who told him the Cubs would take him with the 117th pick.
But the moment Little had been dreaming of since childhood didn’t play out exactly how he pictured it.
“It was kind of depressing,” Little said with a laugh. “His TV was going earlier than mine, so 10 seconds before I got my name called on our TV, he was already screaming and shouting.”
Clint Koppe, Little’s high school coach from East Mecklenburg, texted him the day after the draft and asked if he had gotten any sleep that night.
Little’s response? “Not really.”
As he prepares for whatever his first season could look like in the Cubs organization, Little spends time at his home in Charlotte, watching episodes of “Lost” on Hulu and hanging out with friends and family.
Little said he doesn’t think the gravity of becoming a professional baseball player will sink in until he wears the jersey, but he’s thankful for the video that put him into the spotlight and gave him the opportunity to be drafted.
“I had my thoughts on the draft, and we thought we were going to be able to get picked,” Little said. “Then, when that video happened, it exploded, and it really, really helped me out. … It was amazing for me.”
Little grew up in the Charlotte baseball community behind his older brother, Olen Little, who also played baseball at East Mecklenburg and graduated from Wingate University in 2014.
Robbins watched Luke Little grow up as he coached his older brother. He said he calls Olen Little, who stands at 6-2, “Little Little,” and gave the “Big Little” nickname to the 6-8 Luke Little.
After signing with the Cubs, it’s safe to say “Big Little” is thankful for his big arm.
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