Don Robinson estimates 100 scouts will see Friday’s season opener for State College of Florida’s baseball team in Fort Myers.
That’s the level of buzz SCF starting pitcher Brendon Little and his opponent, Chipola’s Junior Harding, bring.
For Little, a left-hander, it’s his chance to show what he can do. Robinson, the Manatees’ pitching coach, said he didn’t know who Little was at first. Then he saw him throw last fall briefly.
“His breaking ball is just devastating when he throws it for a strike,” Robinson said.
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Little is rated the 34th best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and with a plus-plus fastball and plus-plus breaking ball, it’s no secret why.
“As talented as he is, he’s always trying to get better, and I think that’s what truly separates the really good ones,” SCF head coach Tim Hill II said.
The lone question mark is his command.
Little, who is from Malvern, which is just outside Philadelphia, headed to Division I baseball to play for the University of North Carolina in 2015-16. In the fall, Little’s control went haywire. Through his video analysis, Little saw what was going wrong and tweaked things. But by that point, it was the spring and the Tar Heels had their team in place. So Little threw four innings in Chapel Hill.
A transfer was imminent, and a summer in the Cape Cod League showcased how electric his stuff is.
He throws a fastball in the mid-90s and a spike curveball that’s just as devastating.
The latter pitch is something Little picked up several years ago from watching perennial National League Cy Young Award candidate Clayton Kershaw, a left-hander with the Los Angeles Dodgers, demonstrate his grip with MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds.
“I grip it just like his, except I spike it,” said Little, who rediscovered the spike aspect of the curveball last summer in the Cape Cod League. “... It definitely looks more like a fastball and breaks sharper.”
Through his time at UNC where he was teammates with former Sarasota High standout Jordan Gubelman and former SCF catcher Scott Williams being from his same high school, Little learned of SCF and the area.
“There were a lot of little things kind of pointing, indicating that this was a school to definitely take a look at,” Little said. “Then I called coach Hill (II) on the phone and he was just different talking to. He was more down to earth and personable.”
Little isn’t a power pitcher with one offspeed pitch. He has worked with Robinson in the fall on a third pitch, a circle change-up. It is something Robinson, who pitched 15 years in MLB and won a World Series ring with Pittsburgh in 1979, said can get Little to the next level.
“If he gets that down and he throws strikes with all his pitches, personally I think you’ll see him in the big leagues in two or three years,” Robinson said.
Little, though, isn’t the only player with accolades that enters the 2017 season for SCF, a tradition-rich program looking to rebound from a runner-up finish in the Suncoast Conference last year.
Jaren Shelby, a freshman from Kentucky, was the Bluegrass State’s Gatorade Player of the Year last season. Ryan Karstetter, an IMG Academy alumnus, brings Division I baseball experience as a sophomore transfer from the University of Virginia. Outfielder Rougie Odor is related to Rougned Odor, of the Texas Rangers.
Other bats to watch include sophomores Keshawn Lynch, who returns to SCF as a table-setting hitter with some pop toward the top of the lineup following an All-Conference performance in 2016, and Tyler Romanik.
And then there’s depth in the rotation to pair with Little. Those pitchers include sophomore Vlad Nunez, Lakewood Ranch alumnus Colton Chupp, Gubelman and Jackson Tetreault.
“My dad always had a phrase, ‘COA,’ come as advertised,” Hill II said. “You’ve got all this build up, but can you do it.”
That question will get answered as the season wears on, beginning Friday in Fort Myers against state power Chipola.