06/28/2017 7:59 PM
By: Jacob Janower
During the Fourth of July weekend in Cape Cod, an unfortunate bout with traffic forced Brendon Little to ride a little girl’s bike to the Bourne Braves game that night.
While he made it to the game in one piece, the experience was not one that Little would like to replicate. Nonetheless, the left-hander has many fonder memories from his summer in 2016 with the Bourne Braves, a stint that would play a major role in him being selected No. 27 overall by the Chicago Cubs in the 2017 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Like everyone does at one point or another, Little faced adversity during his baseball career. His experience, however, is more than the norm.
After being one of the most hyped players of North Carolina’s recruiting class for the 2016 season, Little threw just four innings at UNC, giving up three runs and fading to the background on a Tar Heels team filled with players that possessed major league potential.
Despite his struggles, an opportunity with the Braves in the Cape Cod Baseball League opened up, and Little started training for it intensely upon the realization that he would not be pitching much with the Tar Heels.
“After home games I would always go back in the gym after them and get my workouts in,” he said. “When I saw I wasn’t pitching, I treated that spring at UNC as the stereotypical fall. Lifting, trying to build up some endurance and trying to get my body ready for the innings in the summer.
The Braves strategically used Little solely as a reliever during the summer, although he also considers himself a starter, and under the tutelage of pitching coach Jordan Tabakman, allowed him to grow immensely as a pitcher.
“He had command problems his first outing but after that he really took off and his work ethic is like nobody else’s,” Tabakman said. “He works hard, he’s always focused, he’s all business. He went out there, he had fun. When you’re throwing 95, 96, all you have to do it is throw it in the zone and that’s pretty much it.”
Little said that the key for him to adjust to the caliber of talent on the Cape was just to get into a rhythm and simplify things. The results were positive.
While his 3.68 ERA doesn’t look superb on paper, it can mainly be attributed to a couple of rough outings. In 11 of the 13 regular season games that Little appeared in, he did not allow an earned run, which made him a CCBL All-Star.
However, it was the strikeout numbers that really jumped off the page. He fanned 29 hitters in 22 innings, striking out at least three in four different outings.
Little credits this breakthrough to his curveball, which really came into its own during the summer. He said he came into the Cape hoping to develop a secondary pitch, and found it with his curve.
“My curveball became my out pitch all summer,” Little said. “It took center stage for me and really developed pretty well for me into a true hard out pitch.”
Coming away from the Cape, Little was able to gain something precious besides his revamped curveball: newfound confidence.
Understandably, his confidence was not where it needed to be following his season with UNC. For Little, he believes the uptick in his confidence came simply by consistently pitching and being a member of a team.
Tabakman attributed the confidence more to his specific prowess on the mound.
“Knowing he could get the best hitters in the country out with any pitch that he has,” he said. “I think his confidence level really jumped up after his first two outings in the Cape. After that, he knew he could get anybody out in any situation, and he just took off after that.”
Little was able to build off of his summer into a season with the State College of Florida, opting to go the junior college route rather than sitting out a season.
By the time he stepped on campus in Bradenton, he was far more prepared for the workload than he was before he started with the Braves, and it showed. Little recorded 133 strikeouts in just 85 and 1/3 innings with the Manatees.
“Getting out there, getting on a routine, that was probably the biggest thing,” Little said. “When I was with the Braves I had a pretty nice routine. If I pitched one day, then it would be a rest and run day. That was something I carried over to State College of Florida.”
The Bourne Experience
While his numbers on the field were gaudy, part of what made Little’s summer so special was the atmosphere of the Bourne organization.
The Braves pride themselves on the community feel that they have, and Little felt that way throughout his time with the team.
“All the host families were very close to each other, so it just felt like a family,” he said. “During games, if I wasn’t pitching or if other guys weren’t playing, we would walk around to the fans, working the 50/50 raffle. Us getting to know them, them getting to know us. We had a kids camp, I worked that a couple of times.”
Of course his good times over the summer far outweighed memories like the bike incident.
Little painted the picture of one of his favorite nights in the Cape.
“I think we were playing Harwich one night when our bullpen started getting pretty rowdy,” he said. “It was our bullpen just going back and forth with their bullpen and getting into the game a little too much. We had this back and forth, back and forth. We ended up walking off that game. I think we ended up walking off the next night too. This bullpen culture started forming and you could tell the fans were really getting into it. I could tell my host parents were loving it. That was something really organic, how it came to be.”
Overall, Little will never forget spending the summer on the Cape, crediting the Bourne organization for the time he had.
“The community really welcomed us host players with open arms,” he said. “I can’t thank my host family and just the organization enough for all they did for me.”
For many college players, nothing beats hearing your name called in the draft.
Little was no different.
Although he maintained his cool when his advisor told him he would be selected 27th overall by the Cubs, a celebration soon ensued.
“I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high and then have it not happen,” Little said. “I was watching it with my family and my girlfriend and we were huddled around the TV. When we saw it pop up on the screen we all just went crazy. It was awesome, it was honestly something I will never forget.”
Having started all 15 appearances at State College of Florida as opposed to having come in as a reliever throughout his time on the Cape, Little said his preference in the minor leagues is to start, although he is open to either option.
“I’m hoping to start for as long as I can,” he said “That’s always what I’ve wanted to do is be a starter. Definitely start as long as I can and take as many opportunities as I can get.”
Regardless of what role he pitches in, Little is well-prepared for minor league baseball, having used the CCBL as a stepping stone to facing hitters at the next level.
“When you’re in the Cape, you’re facing other first, second, third round draft picks, so you’re already facing pretty elite competition,” Little said. “Having a certain level of success there, you can only hope it will transition into pro ball, but I think just facing and already knowing what type of caliber player I’m expecting to see, there is a certain level of comfort from a standpoint that I know what to expect and have had success against that talent level.”
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