TCN 2016 Cards Prospect #34: Corey Littrell

John Lackey may be gone, but the other pitcher acquired from Boston is working his way up after a strong second-half turnaround.

The Cardinal Nation/ Player Profile

School: University of Kentucky

2015 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
NR LHS 03,21,92 6-3 200 L L 2013 5(BOS)

Selected 2015 stats

PB 9 9 2.69 2.77 27 17 1 130.1 125 39 5 21 93 0.253 1.15 0.296

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (31): During the community vote, Corey Littrell finished as the 31st highest rated player. Littrell jumped up the rankings quite a bit from the 2015 community rankings, when he finalized the vote at #60. UncleDenny was high on Littrell last year, stating that he was a decent lefty with promise, and Littrell’s 2015 season proved him right.

BobReed made a comparison to another former top prospect in the Cardinals system, Kevin Siegrist, St. Louis Cardinals’ current setup man. He also noted that Littrell outperformed Matt Pearce’s illustrious control by going 49 consecutive innings without a walk. CariocaCardinal was not as enthused as he posted that Littrell is around #50 on his personal top prospects list, noting that Littrell spent a second full year in high-A Palm Beach this year, unlike a borderline MLB player like Tyler Lyons, who was in AAA Memphis by this age. - Jeremy Byrd

Derek Shore (31): The "throw-in" piece of the John Lackey-Allen Craig and Joe Kelly deal from the Red Sox in 2014 has surpassed expectations after his strongest professional season to date, and with that, has a shot at a big league career.

As evidence of his 93-to-21 strikeout to walk ratio with High-A Palm Beach this past season, the lefty does not profile to rack up strikeouts. Instead, his strengths fit the Cardinal mold of a left-handed pitcher - of the fringe variety but possesses very good pitchability. He has a good enough fastball at 89-92 mph that plays well off his cutter, changeup, and big curveball.

Some scouts have their questions about Littrell against advanced level hitters. His secondary pitches are said to have taken leaps and bounds this past year, and his command was otherworldly at times for Palm Beach. I have yet to see Littrell with my own eyes, but with that assortment of pitches and ability to command, if the results translate to Double-A there's no reason he couldn't salvage a role as a swingman or left-handed reliever. Some say he has the overall package of a back-end starter if everything goes well.

Given his performance this past year, I was surprised Littrell did not make his debut at Double-A. I see him making Springfield in 2016, and he could follow the same path as polished lefties Tim Cooney and Tyler Lyons with continued improvements.

Brian Walton (35): I admit that I had never heard of Littrell before he was announced as part of the Lackey trade last July. The fact he had been drafted twice, including in the fifth round, indicates he has talent. Littrell has good bloodlines as well. His father Jack Littrell, Jr., pitched four seasons in the Dodgers and Expos organizations from 1977-80.

Still, Littrell did not receive any support for the 2015 TCN 40 from me. His five starts at Palm Beach to conclude 2014 were not memorable, with 19 strikeouts and 10 walks in 31 2/3 innings, no wins and a 4.55 ERA. While there was an adjustment to a new organization, Littrell had already been pitching at the High-A level all season long.

Back in Palm Beach for 2015, more of the same ensued. By mid-May, with a 4.70 ERA, Littrell was taken out of the rotation. His manager Oliver Marmol explains.

“He was in the starting rotation at the beginning of the year and he was, I believe, 0-6, and had a couple of outings when he really struggled,” Marmol said. “He went to the pen and figured out that he needed to be more aggressive and attack the zone.”

After nine appearances in a long relief role, Littrell was asked to start again. It was late June and his ERA was still at 4.38.

“When he came back into the rotation, we saw he was super aggressive,” the manager said. “He attacked guys and wasn’t afraid to pitch to contact. We saw a different pitcher in Littrell. He did a very nice job.”

In fact, Littrell returned with such success that he was named the Florida State League’s Pitcher of the Month for July. Marmol noted one key factor.

“He went 55 innings without walking a guy, and that just shows you how aggressive he was,” the manager said.

Marmol believes the walk-free streak, which ran from May 17 until August 2, could have lasted even longer had the Florida weather cooperated.

“It was impressive to watch,” Marmol said. “He actually broke the streak when they called the last pitch before they stopped the game due to rain, so he was throwing through some pretty heavy rain. And that was his first walk in 55 innings or so.”

If Littrell’s ultimate calling is as a reliever, his success against left-handed hitters could be why. He struck out 36 and walked just four in 38 1/3 frames of work against lefties this season. His manager offers an explanation for the improvement in that part of his game.

“He was much more aggressive,” Marmol said. “It was fun to watch him. Especially against lefties, his slider was a little stronger. Nemo (pitching coach Randy Niemann) did a nice job with him.”

In the second half, Littrell really turned it on. Over his final 12 outings, including 11 starts, he went 8-3 with a 1.55 ERA. That turnaround is what propelled him into these rankings.

“It will be fun for him to come back from the off-season and see what he is capable of doing,” the manager concluded.

Keeping it going against more advanced competition in 2016 will definitely tell us much more about the 23-year-old. Littrell is clearly now on my radar screen.

Our 2016 top 40 series continues: To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 40 countdown and nine in-depth, follow-up articles. Most of the latter are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.

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