Name: Wes Littleton
Position: Relief Pitcher
DOB: September 2, 1982
Sometimes all it takes to get a struggling pitcher on the right track is a slight mechanical change. Sometimes it just takes a move from the starting rotation to the bullpen. For the Rangers' Wes Littleton, it took a little bit of both.
Drafted out of baseball powerhouse Cal State Fullerton in the fourth round of the 2003 draft, Littleton dominated in his debut with Short-Season Spokane. The right-hander posted a 6-0 record with a 1.58 ERA in 52 innings. He allowed only 36 hits, walked seven, and fanned 47.
The Rangers felt that Littleton was advanced enough to skip low Single-A ball, as he began the 2004 campaign with High-A Stockton. However, Littleton struggled with his three-quarters arm slot throughout the year and often struggled with his command.
The righty was promoted to Frisco for the 2005 season, but he was placed in the bullpen full time. Littleton appeared in 48 games – finishing 27 – and put up a 3.97 earned run average. Though he was once again inconsistent, his walks were back down and his strikeouts were back up.
The native Californian broke out in 2006, as he began to feature a sidearm delivery. After allowing just 13 hits in 27.1 innings with Double-A Frisco, Littleton was promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma. The righty breezed through Oklahoma before joining the Rangers in early July.
Littleton's debut with the Rangers was nothing short of outstanding. The reliever posted a 1.73 ERA in 36.1 innings, working his way into the team's primary setup role by season's end. The sidewinder's funky motion was predictably tough on righties, holding them to a .157 average. But he also held left-handers to a respectable .256 batting average.
Repertoire: Fastball, Slider, Changeup.
Littleton's fastball typically ranges in the 87-90 MPH range with excellent sinking action. The sinking fastball helped Littleton produce a 3.75:1 groundout-to-flyout ratio in his big league debut. For comparison, Yankees ground ball specialist Chien-Ming Wang produced a ratio of just 3.06:1 last season. The 24-year-old's best secondary pitch is his big-breaking slider, which flutters away from right-handed hitters. Littleton also flashed a changeup, which was effective against left-handed batters.
Projection: The reason that Littleton stands so low on this list is because he projects exactly where he ended up last year. The 6-foot-2 reliever projects as a setup man in the Major Leagues, albeit an extremely effective one.
2007 Outlook: With the acquisition of Eric Gagne moving Akinori Otsuka back a step, it is unlikely that Littleton will continue to be the Rangers' primary setup man in 2007. However, as long as Littleton continues to retire hitters, there is little doubt that he will be given an important spot in the bullpen.