Corey Littrell (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

The left-hander pitched well in Arizona and is positioned to compete for a job with St. Louis in the spring.

The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2017 continues with a left-handed reliever in a 40-man roster battle. Details for TCN members.

http://www.scout.com/player/192919-corey-littrell?s=321

2016 rank Pos. DOB Signed Round
34 LHR 03 21 92 2013 5(Bos)

Selected 2016 stats

Tm W L ERA FIP G GS SV IP H ER HR BB SO AVG G/AO BABIP
Mem 1 4 4.56 5.01 40 1 1 51.1 51 26 5 29 49 0.259 1.04 0.303
Spr 1 0 1.72 3.25 13 0 1 15.2 8 3 2 1 14 0.145 1.36 0.154
Tot 2 4 3.90   53 1 2 67 59 29 7 30 63 0.234 1.11  
                                 
AFL 0 1 4.40   9 0 0 14.1 11 7 3 4 18 0.200 0.86  

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (55): During the community vote, Corey Littrell finished as the 55th highest rated player. Littrell dropped significantly from the 2016 rankings, which had him at 31. This is after jumping up from #60 in the 2015 rankings.

Last year, BobReed noted that Littrell outperformed Matt Pearce’s illustrious control by going 49 consecutive innings without a walk. After converting to a reliever full-time this season, Littrell progressed all the way to Triple-A. Desmetlax12 believes that Littrell has a good chance to make it as a LOOGY (lefty one out guy) too. - Jeremy Byrd

 

Derek Shore (45): Littrell, 24, had a breakthrough season in his first year after making the full-time transition to the bullpen. He finished with a 3.90 ERA through 67 innings. The lefty struck out 63 and proved to neutralize same-sided batters, holding them to a collective .177 average thanks to a cutter that morphed into a sharper slider.

Based on his performance and proximity to St. Louis, Littrell was among seven Cardinals prospects invited to the Arizona Fall League. All he has done out there is open eyes, including that of Glendale manager Aaron Rowand, a long-time big-leaguer himself.

"He is going to be very good," Rowand said of Littrell. "He attacks both righties and lefties and is effective against both. He is a guy that can go longer innings if you need him to and be a late-inning guy as well."

And that is exactly how Littrell has been employed this fall. The grandson of former big-league shortstop Jack Littrell and son of former minor league pitcher Jack Littrell Jr., the youngest of them fits the prototype the organization desires in its lefty relievers. He is not just a one-batter specialist, but rather one who can be effective against left and right-handed hitters and be relied upon on for multiple innings.

He explains why the transition to the bullpen has been so seamless.

"It's just going back to the basics - pounding the strike zone," Littrell told me in May. "I'm getting better at it each day. I'm able to command my pitches a lot better than I was, say three years ago and even last year. Coming in there, throwing strikes knowing that those guys are going to be aggressive - I can use that to my advantage."

As far as his stuff, the University of Kentucky alum is up to 90-94 mph consistently as a reliever whereas he was high-80s, touching 90 as a starter in 2015. He spots his heater on both sides of the plate and can throw inside at will. He will combat that with a good changeup and slider to both lefties and righties while flashing a show-me curveball to righties at times.

Littrell attributed much of his success to working off his fastball.

“It's all about having that fastball command first and being able to pound it inside to the corner to righties," he added. "Before I've been a teasing away guy and a changeup as a starter. I've really worked hard on trying to get to my extension side and get in on righties."

One scout told me Littrell projects as a possible situational lefty reliever. He also noted that Littrell has a major-league three pitch mix with good strike-throwing ability.

 

Brian Walton (41): Some are just discovering Littrell for the first time, but long-time fans know him as the one minor leaguer in the four-player trade with Boston that also netted John Lackey for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly in July 2014. As we have learned, he is more than just a throw-in and may soon join the others as a big-leaguer.

After an uneven Palm Beach debut following the trade, Littrell returned to the level in 2015 and performed very well in a hybrid starting-long relief role, the latter a move to keep his innings in check. His 2.69 ERA in 130 1/3 innings was third-best in the entire Florida State League. The move to the bullpen pen this past spring enabled Littrell to very quickly move up to Memphis – after just 15 2/3 innings of experience at the Double-A level.

Peoria pitching coach Dernier Orozco worked in depth with Littrell for the first time in Arizona but disagrees with those who see him as a lefty specialist only.

“I saw him a couple of times pitching in spring training, but the first time I have got to know him was here (in the AFL),” Orozco said earlier this month. “He is impressive in what he does. He can go out there and get lefties, but he can also get righties out. He has a three-pitch mix and he is outstanding in locating his fastball right now and the changeup is working for him. I think he’s got a chance (at a major league career).”

Other than three long balls allowed in Arizona, Littrell has pitched very well. How to rank relievers in top prospect lists is always a challenge, but I agree with Orozco.

Not only is his pitching moving him up in the Cardinals pecking order, the overall situation with left-handed pitching at the Major League level is creating a window of opportunity ahead in the spring.

Dean Kiekhefer has left the system and Zach Duke is already out for the year. Tyler Lyons will not be back from a bad knee and Marco Gonzales and Tim Cooney remain injury question marks. So yes, Littrell is in a position to compete for a big league job.

The first question is whether or not the Cardinals add him to the 40-man roster, a decision we should see by Friday. If not, Littrell would seem at high risk to be lost in the December 8 Rule 5 Draft. I think he will be staying.

TCN Scouting Grade: 4, Risk: Medium (click here to review scales)

 

Our 2017 top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and nine in-depth, follow-up articles. Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation, so join today and don’t miss out!

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