Longtime Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks He is expected to begin the season on the injured list, setting Chicago’s 2023 Opening Day roster to be the first not to include a member of the 2016 World Series championship team since 2012 following the departure of Willson Contreras and Jason Heyward over the offseason. As fans on the north side of Chicago begin to adjust to a new era of Cubs baseball, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer’s front office has an important question to answer this spring: who will replace Hendricks in the rotation while he is injured?
As a manager David Ross reporters said, including the Chicago Tribune’s Meghan Montemurro, youth rights Keegan Thompson and Albert Alzolay don’t factor into the club’s rotation plans, and both players are expected to start the season as members of the bullpen. That leaves plenty of options for the last spot in the Cubs’ rotation Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele, Jameson Taillonand Smyly drew, but. Two players in particular seem to be. to have the inside track to the first crack starting for the big league club in 2023:
Perhaps the most likely contender for the role, journeyman Sampson is entering his age-31 season and has a strong chance of getting an extended look in the big leagues for the third time in his career. Sampson’s tenure as a member of the Cubs began late in the 2021 season after a call-up in late August. Over 10 appearances and five starts, Sampson pitched well, with a 2.80 ERA (152 ERA+) in 35 1/3 innings of work. The base metrics didn’t feel all that positive about his performance, however, as Sampson allowed a minuscule .232 BABIP and left 88.4% of runners on base while allowing more than one in five of his balls to fly. to leave a yard. Those red flags left him with a worrisome 5.72 ERA, but the Cubs saw enough in Sampson to sign him to another deal in the minors for the 2022 season.
The 2022 season was a revelation for Sampson after getting a chance in Chicago’s rotation after injuries. In 104 1/3 innings over 21 appearances (19 starts), Sampson posted a strong 3.11 ERA (132 ERA+) which, unlike the previous season, was more supported by basic metrics. Sampson’s BABIP of .288 and LOB% of 77.6% both returned figures much closer to his career norms of .299 and 76%, respectively, giving him a much more palatable 3.79 FIP on the season. Much of this improvement came from a greatly reduced home rate, however, as Sampson only left 7.7% of his fly balls allowed to leave the yard during the 2022 campaign. That rate is unlikely to be sustainable going forward, leaving a major red flag in Sampson’s profile heading into the 2023 season.
That said, given his success in 2022 and the $1.9MM salary he agreed to for 2023 due to a pre-tender agreement with the Cubs, it would make a lot of sense for the veteran righty to be in the running for the job. fifth startup to open the job. 2023 season. That said, Sampson still has a minor league option, meaning he could be kept in Triple-A as depth if he doesn’t make the Opening Day rotation. Additionally, for a team like the Cubs with a handful of pitching prospects headed to the big leagues, it would make sense for the organization to prioritize figuring out what they have in those youngsters and running to give a man like Sampson an extension, even after he’s grown up. league success in 2022.
One such pitching prospect is Wesneski, the right-hander the Cubs acquired from the Yankees at the 2022 trade deadline in exchange for right-handed relief. Scott Effross. Wesneski made his big league debut in September and was an instant hit, even throwing a flawless inning during his late-season cup of coffee. Overall, Wesneski posted a sterling 2.18 ERA (190 ERA+) over 33 innings. He also struck out a quarter of opponents with a meager 5.3% walk rate, resulting in an impressive 3.20 FIP backed up by his raw run prevention numbers.
This impressive late-season performance has Wesneski generating significant hype throughout the season, and he enters Spring Training as Sampson’s likely challenger for the fifth starting role in Chicago. As previously mentioned, the Cubs have a wide variety of interesting pitching prospects in the upper levels of their bullpen system, including Caleb Cillian, Ben Brownand DJ Herz. Because of this reality, it would make a lot of sense for the Cubs to use the innings early in the season to get Wesneski more experience against big league pitching and see how the league adjusts to him. after a strong start.
However, with only four starts and six total appearances in the big leagues under his belt, it would be understandable if the Cubs wanted to take things slowly with Wesneski. After all, the righty is only 25 years old and has few years of major league options left. Additionally, Wesneski’s 143 1/3 innings between Triple-A and the majors in 2022 was a career high, so the Cubs may be keeping a close eye on his innings this season, as the club still works in towards returning to danger. .
While Sampson and Wesneski appear to be the frontrunners for the job, there are several other players who will likely be in the mix for the fifth spot in Chicago’s Opening Day rotation. Ross specifically mentioned the right hand Javier Assad as a potential candidate. Assad, like Wesneski, is entering his age-25 season in 2023 and got a brief cup of coffee in the big leagues in 2022. Over 37 2/3 innings over nine appearances and eight starts, Assad advanced to to a strong 3.11 ERA (133 ERA+), although his unbeaten 18.1% strikeout rate and 12% walk rate leave plenty to worry about, as evidenced by his 4.49 FIP.
In addition to Assad, a pair of those not on the roster could consider a rotation spot. Nick Neidert he spent his career as a member of the Mariners and Marlins organizations before signing with the Cubs on a minor league deal this offseason, and pitched well in 2022, pitching 46 innings at the Triple-A level (1.96 ERA) and present. started for the Marlins in the major leagues (3.60 ERA over five innings), although he spent much of the season on the injured list.
Meanwhile, Roenis Elias He has had some success in the big leagues, with a career 3.96 ERA (98 ERA+) and 4.26 FIP in 395 2/3 innings of work in the big leagues. Elias also had a very strong performance in the Dominican Winter League this season, posting an impressive 0.92 ERA in 39 innings of work. On the other hand, most of Elias’ big league experience has come out of the bullpen, with the lefty starting 5 big league games since the start of the 2016 season. Both Elias and Assad pitched in the World Baseball Classic on this spring as well, giving the Cubs a potentially unique look at their potential in a more competitive setting than Spring Training can usually provide.
Between Sampson, Wesneski, and the trio of dark horse options above, the Cubs have an interesting choice to make before Opening Day as to who will replace Hendricks in the rotation until he returns from the injured list. Potential injuries could make the decision easier by then, either by taking options out of the running or by opening up more spots for those competing. Even if that happens, though, the Cubs appear to be in a good place in terms of quality starting pitching depth as they begin preparing for the 2023 campaign.
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