Pitcher from Mebane joins another big-league team

Fresh start with Rangers has Littell encouraged

By Bob Sutton

Special to The Alamance News

Alamance County native Zack Littell has joined another baseball organization, and he’s looking forward to the possibilities when spring training begins in a couple of weeks.

After two seasons with the San Francisco Giants, the pitcher from Mebane signed a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers with an invitation to major league camp.

“I feel good going into the year,” Littell said. “I feel much better. Ready to go prove myself again.”

Showing that he’s up to the task has tended to be one of Littell’s traits since turning pro shortly after graduating from Eastern Alamance High School.

Some nagging injuries stemming from 2022 spring training tended to put Littell off stride for much of last season. That’s why he said he’s encouraged as the current offseason winds down.

“You can’t be behind the 8-ball when the season starts because there’s no time to catch your breath,” he said.

During the pandemic, he had a full gym installed in his garage, so that comes in handy for workouts. He often throws at the Eastern Alamance field or an indoor facility in Durham. Sometimes, Cole McGinnis, an Eastern senior catcher and a UNC Asheville signee, serves as Littell’s catcher.

“It’s fun to let those guys do it,” Littell said.

Littell’s goal will be to be with the big-league Rangers. Otherwise, he’ll likely be assigned to the Triple-A Round Rock Express, which plays in a suburb of Austin, Texas.

Two years ago when he was a free agent, Littell said there were discussions with the Rangers. This time, a deal was struck.

“We had some conversations then,” he said. “They’ve done a lot of building on their rosters. It all fell in line.”

Littell, 27, is familiar with a couple of the Rangers from his previous big-leagues stops. Catcher Mitch Garver and pitcher Jake Odorizzi were with the Minnesota Twins when Littell first made it to the majors.

“(Odorizzi) was a good mentor for me when I was younger,” Littell said.

Littell has a career record of 13-5 with a 4.08 earned run average and three saves. In 145 career games, all except four have come as a reliever.

The right-hander made his big-league debut in June 2018 with the Twins after time with the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees organizations.

Littell spent the last two seasons with the San Francisco Giants. He was 4-0 with a 2.92 earned run average in 2021. In 2022, he was 3-3 with a 5.08 ERA.

There was a clunky parting with the Giants. During a mid-September outing against the Atlanta Braves, Littell’s reaction to being removed from the game drew a lecture from manager Gabe Kapler.

“I think moments of high emotions come out in games,” he said. “It’s one of those things. I don’t honestly have anything bad to say about Gabe Kapler. I’ve always had a really good relationship with Kap. That whole situation was on me, unfortunate situation.”

Littell said the ensuing attention from the incident was uncomfortable. It ended up being his final game with San Francisco.

“I don’t love the way it was handled afterward,” he said. “It got really blown up considering what really happened. There was nothing disrespectful.”

He chose free agency for the second time in November. Pitchers report in mid-February to Surprise, Arizona, where the Rangers hold spring training.

So this will be something new, but his baseball background should help.

“I’ve made enough connections,” Littell said. “Not intimidating or awkward.”