After rough outings early, Blue Jays reliever Brendon Little is turning things around

”Little” do the Jays know it, they might have a gem in their hands
Toronto Blue Jays v Milwaukee Brewers
Toronto Blue Jays v Milwaukee Brewers / Patrick McDermott/GettyImages

During the 2023-24 offseason, the Toronto Blue Jays had made some key moves to help bolster some of the depth in the organization. One of those moves involved trading for Brendon Little from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for cash considerations.

As a former first round selection of the Cubs back in the 2017 MLB Draft, Little came with some high expectations coming out of State College of Florida. However, with just limited success as a starter while working his way up in the Cubs’ minor league system, he was ultimately converted into a reliever, becoming his primary role nowadays. 

Little began the 2024 season with the Jays’ Triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons where he has compiled an 0-2 record with a 4.15 ERA and 1.73 WHIP. In addition, he has battled some control issues, giving up 17 hits with 13 walks and 25 strikeouts over 17.1 innings pitched. He certainly wasn’t putting up earth-shattering numbers. But since both lefties Tim Mayza and Génesis Cabrera had been struggling out of the Jays bullpen earlier this season, there seemed like no harm to add a third lefty to help out when needed. 

Initially, Little struggled to find his footing in his first stint up with the Jays this season back near the end of April. He made three appearances and gave up 4 earned runs on 5 hits with 4 strikeouts in just 3.1 innings of work and was subsequently sent back down to the minors. Little was recalled again for the second time this season following the placement of closer Jordan Romano on the injured list. This time around, though, his stay appears to be more on a permanent basis as he has rebounded with some better results.

Since a rough outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 1, Little has been spotless in nine of his past 11 relief appearances. Over that stretch, he has been relatively steady and reliable, giving up just 3 runs on 8 hits while walking three and striking out 11 over 12 innings pitched for a tidy 2.25 ERA and .186 opponent's batting average.

More importantly, Little has been able to induce a high ground ball rate close to 70% and a low average exit velocity around 87 mph. So by keeping the ball mainly out of the air and avoiding hard contact, it has led to his much-improved success. On top of that, where his control issues had often plagued him throughout his career, he has overcome his weakness to maintain an impressive low walk rate of 6% to date.

Of course, all of this may just be a small sample size. But if Little is indeed turning out into this year’s version of Jay Jackson that we hinted about before, then the Jays may have found an unexpected diamond in the rough to significantly bolster their bullpen going forward.