Little locks up first career Opening Day roster spot

Suzuki, Wicks both finish Spring Training with tons of momentum for regular season

March 26th, 2024

MESA, Ariz. -- After exited his outing against the Mariners on Sunday afternoon, he was informed that Cubs manager Craig Counsell wanted to have a word with him. Little prepared himself for both possible outcomes as he approached the manager.

“I was like, ‘This is either going to be good or bad,’” Little said. “I was hoping it was going to be good, because it's during a game.”

It was indeed good news. Counsell informed the 23-year-old Little that he made the Cubs’ Opening Day bullpen. At the time of spring when there are some tough conversations behind the scenes about roster spots, Counsell enjoyed being able to have that moment with the 6-foot-8 rookie at the Peoria Sports Complex.

“It's a good-sized smile,” Counsell said. “Good-sized man. Good-sized smile.”

A fourth-round pick by Chicago in the 2020 Draft, Little cruised through three Minor League levels last season en route to his first taste of the Majors. Chicago's No. 16 prospect (per MLB Pipeline) did not allow a run with the Cubs, ending his stint with 12 strikeouts and four walks in 6 2/3 innings down the stretch in the big leagues. That came after Little spun a 2.12 ERA with 105 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings down on the farm.

This spring, Little continued to impress the Cubs, allowing zero runs in eight of his nine Cactus League appearances. In 8 1/3 innings in this preseason, the big lefty struck out nine and walked four.

“Luke had a really good spring,” Counsell said. “And really, I think as much as any reliever on our team showed -- or any pitcher in the spring -- showed uncomfortableness from hitters. And Luke is young and Luke is inexperienced, but when you see that for Major League hitters, I think we all take note of it.

“We definitely take note of it. I look forward to Luke getting some opportunities and hopefully earning some bigger opportunities as we go.”

Jed Hoyer, the Cubs' president of baseball operations, added that he was impressed by how Little responded to his lone setback of the spring. The left-hander gave up a homer, walked two and allowed three runs against the Giants on Friday. In his next outing on Sunday against Seattle, Little turned in a scoreless frame.

“Really impressive,” Hoyer said. “I think [that] says a lot about his ability to turn the page, because you're going to have bad outings as a reliever and you've got to move on.”

Little’s first phone call after making the Opening Day roster was to his mom, Billie. He smiled and said that she started “freaking out” when the pitcher told her his family needed to get to Texas for Thursday’s opener against the Rangers.

“It’s something I’ve been dreaming about since I was a kid,” Little said. “Just being able to be on the field Opening Day, it’s going to be really special.”

Worth noting
• With two home runs in Monday’s 6-3 loss to the visiting Cardinals, Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki now has six blasts with 12 RBIs this spring. Suzuki is sporting a .459/.512/1.081 slash line through 15 games played.

“I've seen enough of him this spring. We're good. Head to Texas,” Hoyer joked recently. “The numbers don't mean much, but I do like the fact that he looks like he picked up where he left off at the end of last year. I think that's the important thing. He looks comfortable and happy and we just need to keep [him] right where he is.”

• Left-hander Jordan Wicks allowed one run on three hits over four innings against St. Louis, giving him a 2.53 ERA with 16 strikeouts and four walks in 21 1/3 innings this spring. Wicks, who made his first Opening Day roster, currently lines up to face the Rangers in the third game of the season.

“I’m really going to take a moment and kind of take it in, especially the Opening Day festivities,” Wicks said. “It’ll be my first one. It’s something I definitely don’t take lightly. It’s an honor to be there. It’s an honor to be selected. And I think it’s something that I'm definitely going to enjoy the moment.”

• The final two bullpen spots went to Little and sidearmer Jose Cuas, while righty Hayden Wesneski was optioned to Triple-A Iowa on Monday. Nick Madrigal and Miles Mastrobuoni got the final two bench jobs, while outfielder Alexander Canario was optioned to Triple-A Iowa.