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Cardinals prospect Corey Littrell breaks through with sharp command

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Corey Littrell
Corey Littrell
Ravi Brammer/Palm Beach Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals farm system always seems to have plenty of strike-throwing college-draft pitchers on the way up. A new name to watch going forward is Corey Littrell, currently pitching for the Palm Beach Cardinals in the High-A Florida State League.

Littrell came to attention as a prospect during his sophomore season at the University of Kentucky in 2012: he went 9-2, 2.74 ERA with an 87/25 K/BB in 99 innings, fine statistical performance made all the better due to a fastball clocked as high as 95 MPH. He was seen as a potential first round pick for 2013, but his junior year was something of a disappointment. His fastball dropped back into the upper 80s and while he was still reasonably effective, he saw his numbers slip along with the radar (3.72, 77/35 K/BB in 95 innings).

The Boston Red Sox drafted him in the fifth round. He performed decently in 2014 (3.60, 91/38 K/BB in 100 innings) but was behind other arms on the depth chart. He was traded last summer to the Cardinals as part of the John LackeyAllen Craig/Joe Kelly deal.

Littrell got off to a rough start in 2015 with a 6.35 ERA in April for Palm Beach. He was used as both a starter and reliever in May and June before returning to the rotation full-time in July. Littrell's command has been exceptional since his difficult start: he posted a 48/0 K/BB ratio (not a typo) during a 49-inning stint in June and July.

Since returning to the starting role Littrell has a 1.67 ERA in 54 innings with a 47/4 K/BB. His overall line stands at 2.98 in 109 innings with an 82/15 K/BB.

Listed at 6-3, 185, Littrell is 23 years old, born March 21, 1992. Although he hasn't fully returned to his sophomore year velocity, he's got enough fastball to succeed at 89-92 with good location. He'll mix in a slider/cutter, a slower curveball, and a change-up. All three secondary pitches have taken steps forward this year and his command has been outstanding since the middle of May.

Littrell should be ticketed for Double-A in 2016 and if he maintains his gains from this season he can follow in the footsteps of Tyler Lyons and Tim Cooney as polished college lefties with solid fourth starter potential.