PASCO, Wash. – Grant Little, 21, is the type of player that the A.J. Preller regime has targeted in the draft since they took over the Padres’ organization in August of 2014; athletic, can play up the middle with a lot of potential upside at the plate. He was selected in the 2018 draft in the Competitive Balance B round with the pick that the team received in their trade with the Minnesota Twins. San Diego sent over a short-season AZL catcher 21-year old Janigson Villalobos and received pitcher Phillip Hughes and the remains of his three-year contract. In early August the Padres released Hughes and according to Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune, are responsible for around half of the $13.2 million that is due to him for its final year.
The trade gave the Padres four picks among the first 85 players. With the team’s third overall pick San Diego took Little, who hit .370/.462/.642 for Texas Tech this season. According to Texas Tech’s website Little, was the highest selected Red Raider since 2012, a unanimous all Big-12 selection, received several post-season All-American awards in route to setting numerous school offensive records.
“Our scouts like the fact that he has played shortstop — he played high school basketball and he’s an athlete,” said Preller after the first day of the draft on Little. “We’ve talked about can he play center field, can he play left field? That’s what we are going to see here in pro baseball.
“I think he is a guy that is very versatile, he’s athletic. He’s got some twitch and some athleticism to him. He’s made some diving catches that have been on SportsCenter. My guess is that he will start playing in the outfield and we will take a look at the infield as well.”
So far this year Little has posted a slash line of .257/.345/.304 for the Tri-City Dust Devils in 168 plate appearances.
“I think he is a very good defensive outfielder,” said his manager Mike McCoy on his defensive ability. “He’s made some nice plays for us in center and left field because he gets good jumps on balls. I know he played mostly left in college, but when I have thrown him out there in center, he looks comfortable. He has a good arm and is solid all-around.
“With the bat, I would like to see him put on fifteen pounds. He has good hands and plate discipline. He hit home runs in college, so I think it’s in there, but right now he’s been more gap-to-gap. I think he’s still adjusting to the wood bat a little bit, but he’s a good hitter. With his hands, he could be an elite hitter.”
We caught up with him to talk about his first summer of professional baseball.
MadFriars: You played a full year at Texas Tech. How tired are you?
Grant Little: I feel pretty good right now. I knew coming into minor league baseball that it was every day, but I also really enjoy playing. You wake up every day to go to the park and you know there is going to be a game, so that makes it easier. Everyone is tired at this point, it’s just part of the deal so there is no reason to make any excuses.
There was a lot of talks when you were drafted about what position you would end up at defensively.
At Texas Tech you played left field, here you are in center and there has been some talk of you eventually moving to the infield.
Where do you see yourself ending up?
Grant Little: There has been some talk, but right now I feel most comfortable in center field. I think I have played well out there so far and I think I always do well in left. I didn’t get to play center much in college, but I feel more comfortable out there with every game.
Why did you move out to the outfield in the first place?
Grant Little: In my freshman year I had surgery on my wrist, so I had to miss most of the fall. Our other shortstop Orlando Garcia was playing well there so there was a spot open in the outfield and they put me out there. It was really a case of just trying to learn on the fly. I had a bunch of help from the guys I was playing with which really helped a lot.
One reason why I like center is just the room you have, and you don’t have to worry about angles as you do in right and left.
It must be easier to see the ball as well.
Grant Little: It is. All of the balls are truer, and you get a great view from there as well. In the corners, you have to deal with slices.
You were twice all-state in basketball, what position did you play?
Grant Little: My freshman year I was our point guard and had a pretty good year. In my sophomore and junior years, we had a guy move in Daniel Venzant, who now plays at Cal-State Fullerton, and I moved to the two.
We scored a lot of points.
Can you still dunk?
Grant Little: Yes, but in the off-season when I have my legs under me I can. At Texas Tech as part of our conditioning, we would play some games of rec ball.
I can still play a bit.
Did you ever think of playing basketball in college?
Grant Little: I thought that was what I was going to do until my junior year of high school because I was getting looks to play college basketball. But I felt that I had a better chance to make a living playing baseball as opposed to basketball. I didn’t get my Dad’s or his brothers’ heights. My Dad is six-feet-four, his brother is also six-foot-four and his other brother is six-foot-six.
What has been your biggest adjustment to the pro game? Have you hit with wood much?
Grant Little: In summer ball some, but wooden bats are definitely the biggest transition. With aluminum bats, you have more room for error. I don’t think you really learn how to hit until you start using wood. I’ve gotten better and I am not hitting it off of the handle as much as earlier in the season.
Some college guys claim the biggest adjustment is having to learn how to improve before the game whereas in college you could just have days dedicated to practicing without worrying about the game.
Grant Little: I feel like our coaches at Texas Tech had more of a pro mindset. They didn’t really force us to do anything that we didn’t want to do. You had to take responsibility for your own career. That mindset has really helped me here.
Last question; what do you do best and what part of your game do you want to work on the most?
Grant Little: I know the numbers don’t indicate it now, but I see myself as an offensive outfielder. I think I can play anywhere on the field. The biggest thing I need to do is get back in the weight room.
I’ve lost some weight since I came here and need to get it back.