The Cubs drafted two lefties who routinely touch or exceed triple digits, one who sounds like the sheriff of a Wild West boom town and the other whose name is an antiphrasis. Burl Carraway was Dallas Baptist’s closer this past season and is widely viewed as the most likely member of his draft class to debut first, maybe even this season if MLB comes to an agreement. The 6-foot-8 Luke Little went viral when a clip from his bullpen session showed him hitting 105 on the radar gun.
Ed. note: The first version of this story listed Carraway’s alma mater as TCU, which was a pretty dumb editorial mistake. On the other hand, the schools are only about 30 miles apart in the Metroplex.
Both pitchers represent a break from the Cubs’ previous draft strategy, which was based more on perceived safety and volume. Interestingly enough, though, Carraway is probably a safer pick than most of the pitchers the Cubs have taken in early rounds over the last few years. The plan is to keep him in the bullpen, where his elite fastball and heavy hammer of a curveball can play almost immediately.
“It was really unique, to say the least,” Cubs VP of scouting Dan Kantrovitz told The Athletic. “We hadn’t seen anything like it from a draft perspective in the last 10-plus years when it comes to his pitch-data profile. There are dominant characteristics of both his fastball and breaking ball that are elite, even when it comes to major league standards.
“The velocity is the obvious one, but then there’s the deception, the spin rate and the angles as well. All that echoed what the scouts were telling us too. So at that point in January, we knew it was something pretty unique here.”
While Kantrovitz tried to temper his effusive praise by admitting there is still work to do when it comes to command, he said Carraway has a chance to be an elite reliever. Seriously, Kantrovitz repeated that word, by which I mean “elite,” three times in the space of four sentences. Carraway’s fastball spin rate would have been top-10 among MLB lefties last season and his spin efficiency — how well spin equates to movement — is said to be excellent as well.
It’s too soon to start salivating over the potential for the Cubs to have a young, homegrown reliever anchoring the back end of the bullpen by next season, but…wait, it’s not too early at all. Major League Baseball is in limbo right now and the blustery rhetoric from ownership in particular has left a sour taste in fans’ mouths even if there is still hope for a season. So by all means, take whatever opportunity you can find to be optimistic.
That might include seeing Little’s radar readings as completely legit and not at all the product of a hot gun. And even if they’re exaggerated, who cares? It’s hard to imagine the readings were off by five ticks, so you’re still talking about another lefty who’s got cheese like Sargento. That hasn’t always been the case for Little, who was topping out in the 70’s early in his prep career.
“It was just years and years of changes,” Little told MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian of his velocity development. “It’s come a long way, and I appreciate everyone that’s helped me get here.”
The 19-year-old is still very much a work in progress and will need to refine his mechanics and cut down on the big walk numbers that plagued him in juco ball, but the potential is undeniable. Changes in their development infrastructure and philosophies made it possible for the Cubs to assume the risk associated with Little, as they are now more willing and better able to tailor a customized program just for him.
Scott Kobos didn’t have the attendant hype of either of the two lefties mentioned above and never pitched a full season for Coastal Carolina, but the southpaw could be a sleeper. One of the Cubs’ first additions in the undrafted free agency period, Kobos didn’t even start pitching until transferring to St. Johns River State College after his freshman season at UNC Asheville.
He had been an outfielder by trade, gliding around in center and displaying a surprisingly strong throwing arm for someone with such a spindly frame. At 6 feet on the nose and tipping the scales at just 155 pounds when he arrived on campus for the first time, Kobos had a lot of room to grow. And grow he has, showing up to CCU at 6-foot-2 and around 175 pounds and since adding another 35 pounds to his frame.
That’s helped his fastball, which is up to 95 and could tick higher, and he told CI’s The Rant Live he believes he can add even more weight without losing any athleticism. A physics major, Kobos immediately clicked with pitching director Craig Breslow and is familiar with all the various metrics and data the Cubs use to evaluate and develop pitchers. Given his low mileage and openness to learn, Kobos could really surprise some folks over the next few years.
As foolish as it would be to label the Cubs’ haul a success before any of their new prospects have even so much as suited up in a professional practice, it’s impossible not to be excited about their additions. Well, let me walk that back a little bit because I know someone has to play the role of Eeyore no matter what. If you’re not predisposed to turdinpunchbowlitis, however, this trio of southpaws should have you stoked for the future of the Cubs’ pitching staff.