The Little League World Series has been a global sports phenomenon for decades, bringing some of the world’s best youth players together for an event filled with competition and camaraderie. But as impressive as the display in Williamsport, Pa,. is every year, there are a lot of steps between reaching the LLWS and actually making a big league roster.
Nonetheless, a select few have managed to make such steps, thriving in MLB years after their LLWS stardom. In the midst of this year’s tournament, we break down 20 notable LLWS alumni to reach MLB (sorted chronologically by LLWS appearances).
1954 LLWS (Lakeland, Fla.) -- reached quarterfinals
The LLWS was much different in Powell’s day than it is now, as the tournament consisted of eight teams, all from the U.S., in a single-elimination format. And Powell’s squad did not fare well, losing its sole LLWS game, 16-0. Fortunately, Powell’s professional career had more highs. In a 17-year career that primarily came with the Orioles, the first baseman/outfielder made four All-Star appearances, won two World Series and was the 1970 AL MVP.
1958 LLWS (Portland, Ore.) -- reached quarterfinals
Like Powell’s team four years prior, Wise’s squad lost its only LLWS game, falling in a 2-1 quarterfinal to Illinois. And also like Powell, Wise ended up participating in an MLB World Series as well, being part of a Red Sox team that lost to the Reds in 1975 in MLB.com’s greatest seven-game World Series of all-time. Over his 18-year career, Wise was a two-time All-Star as a starting pitcher. He also is the only player to throw a no-hitter and hit multiple home runs in the same game.
1969 LLWS (Santa Clara, Calif.) -- lost in final
Unlike the two aforementioned players, Lansford’s team won a pair of contests before falling in the LLWS championship game, 5-0, to Chinese Taipei. Lansford would find even more team success in MLB, when he was part of an Oakland core featuring Rickey Henderson, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire that reached three straight World Series from 1988-90, including a win in 1989 over the Giants. Lansford was an All-Star for the 1988 team, and he also won the AL batting title in 1981 with Boston.
1971 LLWS (Gary, Ind.) -- lost in final
Is McClendon the Little League GOAT? Here is his stat line from the 1971 LLWS: 5-for-5, 5 HR, 5 IBB. That’s a 5.000 OPS, for those counting at home. It sounds mythical, but it was reality for “Legendary Lloyd”, who could not be stopped until a Chinese Taipei team repeatedly intentionally walked him after he hit a three-run home run in the first inning of the championship. It worked, as McClendon’s team did not score again. McClendon churned out eight MLB seasons as a utility man, before also serving as manager of the Pirates and Mariners.
1980 LLWS (Tampa, Fla.) -- lost in final
A stacked 1980 LLWS roster featured both Sheffield and Derek Bell, in addition to future University of Miami (Fla.) linebacker Maurice Crum Sr., 1987 Yankees 56th-round pick Derrick Pedro and 1988 Cubs first-round pick Ty Griffin. Yet after winning their first two games by a combined score of 36-3, they came up just short, falling 4-3 in the final -- the fourth of five consecutive titles from Chinese Taipei. 17 years later, Sheffield won the MLB World Series with the 1997 Marlins. The outfielder finished his esteemed career as a nine-time All-Star, and he is one of 28 all-time members of the 500 home run club.
1980 and 1981 LLWS (Tampa, Fla.) -- lost in final twice
Bell was part of the 1980 finalist team, but he also returned to the LLWS one year later. The result was eerily similar, with a 4-2 championship loss to Chinese Taipei, representing the nation’s fifth straight LLWS championship -- still the longest streak by any U.S. state or non-American country. Like Sheffield, Bell was also able to win an MLB World Series, doing so with the 1992 Blue Jays. The outfielder finished with 134 home runs in his 11-year career. In 1982, Sheffield, Bell, Crum, Pedro and Griffin all re-united to win the Junior League World Series (LLWS equivalent for 13-14-year-olds).
1981 LLWS (Barrington, Ill.) -- reached semifinal
In the 1981 LLWS semifinals, Wilson’s Barrington Little League trailed Bell’s Belmont Heights squad 11-4 with two outs in the sixth before rallying to score six runs, but then a potential game-tying run was thrown out at the plate by Sheffield’s cousin, Derrick Pedro. Wilson went on to have a 14-year MLB career as a catcher, primarily coming with the Mariners. He was the primary catcher on the 2001 Mariners, which tied the MLB record by winning 116 games. Wilson also was a 1996 All-Star, and he was inducted into the Mariners Hall of Fame.
1982 LLWS (Maracaibo, Venezuela) -- reached quarterfinal
Alvarez’s squad had the tough opening game draw of facing Pu-Tzu Town Little League from Chinese Taipei, a nation that won five straight LLWS from 1977-81. Venezuela fell, 8-2, in that quarterfinal game, though it responded to win both consolation games to earn a fifth-place finish. Alvarez was signed by the Rangers organization at age 16, and proceeded to have a 14-season MLB career, including an All-Star campaign in 1994 with the White Sox. He finished his career 102-92 on the mound, with a 3.96 ERA.
1984 LLWS (Altamonte Springs, Fla.) -- lost in final
Varitek’s legacy is certainly one of winning, as he’s the only player to appear in a LLWS, College World Series, MLB World Series and World Baseball Classic (not to mention the 1992 Olympics). The first leg of that winning tour came in the 1984 LLWS, when his team won the U.S. championship before falling to South Korea in the overall final. Varitek got his long-awaited World Series in 2004, helping the Red Sox end the Curse of the Bambino. In addition to a second WS title in 2007, Varitek ended his 15-year Boston career as a three-time All-Star.
1989 LLWS (Tampa, Fla.) -- reached quarterfinal
Cash reached the LLWS quarterfinals with Northside Little League from Tampa, Fla. -- a city that would turn out to be relevant for the rest of Cash’s life. His MLB playing career was less notable than others featured in this article, as the catcher appeared in 246 games across eight seasons with five different teams, including the Rays. But Cash’s accomplishments as a manager are what sets him apart, as the 45-year-old already has two AL Manager of the Year awards with Tampa Bay, including the 2020 season in which the Rays won the AL pennant.
1990 LLWS (British Columbia, Canada) -- reached semifinal
Canada is typically not a Little League powerhouse, with zero LLWS titles in 61 appearances entering 2023 (most by any non-American country). But Bay’s squad was an exception, reaching the semifinals before losing to the eventual champions from Chinese Taipei, and then winning the third-place game over California. It stands as one of only three top-three finishes by a Canadian LLWS team (also 1965 and 1998). As for his MLB exploits, Bay won the 2004 NL Rookie of the Year award with the Pirates, and he proceeded to be a three-time All-Star in an 11-year career.
1991 LLWS (Staten Island, N.Y.) -- reached semifinal
For the second straight year, a future MLB All-Star named Jason led his team to a third-place LLWS finish. Marquis’ squad fell to California in the U.S. final, but then used a no-hitter from Marquis to blow out a Canadian squad, 16-0, in the third-place game. In the big leagues, Marquis had six consecutive 10-win seasons from 2004-09, the last of which also resulted in an All-Star selection with the Rockies. He was a member of the 2006 World Series champion Cardinals, though he did not pitch in that postseason.
1998 LLWS (Toms River, N.J.) -- won championship
Frazier did something that Lansford, McClendon, Sheffield, Bell and Varitek all came up just short of doing -- bring home the LLWS championship. And Frazier saved his best for last in the process, going 4-for-4 with a HR and also being the winning pitcher in relief as his New Jersey squad toppled a Japanese team, 12-9, in the championship game. Frazier went on to be a two-time All-Star with the Reds, also winning the 2015 Home Run Derby. And he notably returned to Williamsport when he played in the MLB Little League Classic with the Mets in 2018.
1999 LLWS (Brownsburg, Ill.) -- eliminated in pool play
The LLWS did not go as planned for Lynn’s squad, which went 0-3 for a quick exit. But Lynn didn’t have to wait long to experience the feeling of victory, as his Cardinals won the World Series in his rookie season of 2011. Lynn primarily served as a reliever in that season, appearing in 10 playoff games, but the current Dodgers pitcher has since carved out an impressive career as a starter. He has two All-Star appearances and three top-six Cy Young finishes, with a lifetime record of 132-93 on the mound.
1999 LLWS (Phenix City, Ala.) -- lost in final
The 1999 LLWS featured at least five eventual MLB players, and two of them were Colby Rasmus and his younger brother, Cory. The Rasmus brothers’ team beat Lynn’s squad in a 5-4 thriller on a walk-off grand slam off of Lynn in both teams’ opening game. Alabama went on to reach the LLWS final, where it lost, 5-0, to a Japanese squad. Coincidentally, Lynn and Colby Rasmus were teammates on the 2011 Cardinals, though Rasmus was traded before the World Series run. Rasmus finished his MLB career with 166 home runs in ten seasons.
2003 and 2004 LLWS (Richmond, Texas) -- reached 2003 quarterfinals, 2004 semifinals
With two separate LLWS appearances, Grichuk is one of the most accomplished players in the event’s history. He had 12 hits in six games in 2004, which, at the time, tied the record for hits in a single LLWS. He saved his best for last, having two hits and two RBIs while also throwing a complete game with 11 strikeouts in a 5-0 win over Mexico for third place. In the pros, while Grichuk has the unfortunate distinction of being drafted one pick before Mike Trout, he has still churned out a respectable career, with 186 home runs to date.
2003 and 2004 LLWS (Willemstad, Curaçao) -- reached 2003 semifinals, won 2004 title
Schoop, along with Jurickson Profar, played a major role in helping Pabao Little League become a LLWS power. While Schoop’s first LLWS appearance came as an 11-year-old in 2003, the breakout year both for him and Curaçao as a whole was 2004, when a stacked Pabao team became the first, and still only, LLWS champion from a Caribbean country. Schoop notably had a walk-off single in a thrilling 9-8 quarterfinal win over Chinese Taipei. In the bigs, Schoop was an All-Star in 2017 with the Orioles, and he handily led MLB with 27 Outs Above Average in 2022.
2004 and 2005 LLWS (Willemstad, Curaçao) -- won 2004 title, lost in 2005 final
Like Schoop, Profar played a major role in 2004, including a home run in the title game win over California. But what Profar doesn’t have in common with Schoop is that he was back in 2005, very nearly leading Pabao to a repeat title before the team blew a 6-3, sixth-inning lead to Hawaii. Profar ended up being the first of three brothers to reach the LLWS. Profar is one of eight position players in the 21st century to play an MLB game before turning 20, and he more recently had a career-high 140 hits in 2022 with the Padres.
2004 LLWS (Redmond, Wash.) -- eliminated in pool play
Conforto is one of three players all-time to appear in a LLWS, College World Series and MLB World Series, joining pitcher Ed Vosberg and the aforementioned Varitek. Conforto’s team was eliminated after going 1-2 in pool play, which included an 18-7 loss to Texas in which both Conforto and Randal Grichuk homered (the latter doing so twice). Unlike Vosberg and Varitek, Conforto has not won an MLB World Series, as his Mets fell to the Royals in 2015. But he does have an All-Star appearance and 147 home runs to his name.
2007 LLWS (Chandler, Ariz.) -- reached quarterfinals
Bellinger’s current 6-foot-4 frame is a far cry from where he was in the LLWS, but being one of his team’s smallest players didn’t stop him from leading it on a solid run to the quarterfinals. As a pro, Bellinger has only racked up more hardware. From a team standpoint, Bellinger won a World Series with the Dodgers in 2020. Individually, he has Rookie of the Year, NL MVP, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger honors to his name.