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Bring Back the Light on Littell

Posted by Ted Schwerzler , 26 October 2020 · 1,751 views

minnesota twins zack littell matt wisler
Going into the 2019 Major League Baseball season the Twins had few question marks more glaring than what their bullpen would look like. Fast forward to season’s end and it was among the best units in baseball. That happened largely because of internal development, and Zack Littell was part of that.

Acquired from the New York Yankees, Littell had pitched a brief 20.1 innings during the 2018 season. Working as both a starter and reliever in his debut year, he moved completely to the pen in 2019. Across 37.0 IP Littell posted a 2.68 ERA and 171 ERA+. While he wasn’t counted upon as one of Rocco Baldelli’s top arms, he consistently got the job done.

Fast forward to 2020 and Littell seemed to quickly fall out of favor with the big-league club. He was given just 6.1 IP this past season, and after a disastrous debut in which he allowed three homers and four runs in just a single inning to White Sox hitters, there wasn’t much more opportunity from there. Ultimately Littell was DFA’d from the 40-man, and after passing through waivers unclaimed, was assigned to the alternate site in St. Paul.

What Minnesota really has here is probably something in the middle of the two extremes. As good as the ERA was in 2020, Littell still owned a 3.62 FIP and whiffed just 7.8 per nine while allowing 2.2 free passes per nine. He saw nearly a 2 mph jump on his fastball velocity once moving to the pen full time, and the 12.8% swinging strike rate in 2019 was nearly double the mark set the year before. Without pitching in too many high leverage situations though, it was on the basis of a relatively untested arm.

Given the emergence of guys like Tyler Duffey and Caleb Thielbar, opportunities dwindled for someone on the fringe. Minnesota tabbed Matt Wisler as a worthy project right away during the 2019 offseason however, and Littell feels like someone worth investing in this time around. Should the Twins not add him back to the 40-man, he’d be a free agent, but letting g of talent like that needing to fill spots in the pen seems foolish.

There was next to no amount of normalization when it comes to production in 2020. With the season being just 60 games, a small sample size was the absolute best you’d be able to get. Having chopped up opportunity as Littell did, and seemingly losing his stature during the first week of the season, it’d be great to see him compete with a traditional runway once again.

If Minnesota is truly going to shave payroll in response to decreased revenues during 2020, then making sure there’s an adequate amount of low-cost, high-performing talents internally is a must. That may mean there’s a revolving door for some spots until they get it right, but it can’t mean moving on from options prior to determining what is truly there. Zack Littell looks the part of a bounce-back contributor next season and giving up on that possibility when he’s just 25-years-old would be a mistake.

For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz




Did Littel have an injury, elbow? I like Littel, but always wondered if his success was sustainable. Hope he turns it around next year and is successful for Twins, but only see Twins offering him a minor league contract.

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Ted Schwerzler
Oct 27 2020 11:25 AM

 

Did Littel have an injury, elbow? I like Littel, but always wondered if his success was sustainable. Hope he turns it around next year and is successful for Twins, but only see Twins offering him a minor league contract.

 

Littell did have an elbow issue in August. However, it seemed he immediately got behind the eight ball with that original ugly outing.

Given Littel has an option remaining I'd hope they keep him on the 40 man if for no other reason to see if he can rediscover his form from 2019 at AAA.

Littell has to impress and fill one of the new openings in the BP right out of ST or get optioned.We know it took Duffey and May time to emerge, Let's hope Littell surprises us with some new life on his pitches.