Scouting New Cubs Prospect Hayden Wesneski: A Whirly-Throwing Starter on the Cusp of the Big Leagues
The Cubs added a new starting pitching prospect to their farm system in a surprising pre-deadline trade, acquiring 24-year-old Hayden Wesneski from the New York Yankees in exchange for reliever Scott Effross. No one really saw that one coming at the time.
I have long been a big fan of Effross – heck, he was so good he even avoided the Bryan Writes About Relievers jinx – and it will be difficult to watch him succeed in New York. But all I can do is analyze the new guy, and without doubt, there are some intriguing things about the arm that Jed Hoyer, Carter Hawkins, Craig Breslow, and Daniel Moskos identified here.
Description: A sixth-round pick in 2019 out of Sam Houston State, Wesneski is a 6-foot-3, 210-pound righty with a Texan mound personality. The right-hander broke out during the 2021 season, where he went from High-A to Triple-A in one season. Wesneski has pitched the entire 2022 season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this offseason if not added to the 40-man roster.
Wesneski is made up of a lot more legs than torso, with perhaps a little more upper body weight room work necessary before his development is complete. The Yankees helped his delivery significantly, with now-Cubs coach Daniel Moskos, who was then his Double-A pitching coach, encouraging Wesneski to hold his back hip/leg as long as possible to help his velocity. Wesneski lets go of the biggest sigh you’ll see before starting his delivery, with a decently-long arm swing leading to a 3/4 arm slot. He pitches with really fun emotion and intensity that will naturally endear himself to the fan base.
Skills You’re Excited About: Wesneski’s ability for gloveside breaking ball movement is rare. He throws both a cutter and a slider – the cutter a 86-90 mph offering thrown mostly to lefties, and the slider at about 79-84 mph to either hitter type. The pitch is a true Yankees whirly, generating up to 20(!) inches of horizontal sweep. His comfort with the pitch supports a very heavy usage profile.
The cutter is mostly just a baby version of that pitch, and he’s comfortable throwing that to the inner third against lefties.
Wesneski’s changeup seemed at its best earlier in the season, and the fade you’ll occasionally see gives hope of a fully realized five-pitch mix.
Wesneski’s fastball seems to have settled in the 92-96 range, though he has proven capable of throwing harder in the past. The Yankees worked hard on Wesneski’s four-seamer, and I suspect the Cubs like that pitch’s characteristics. The two seamer was the bread-and-butter offering that got him drafted, with good arm-side run and seam-shifted wake effects.
Wesneski’s contact management skills look good statistically: he has the lowest line drive rate and fifth-highest infield fly ball rate of any qualified pitcher at the Triple-A level. He is not currently being squared up.
Development that Needs to Happen: The most important step remaining in Wesneski’s development is getting the fastballs individually where they need to be, and then finding the right balance of the two offerings.
Given the Cubs’ approach with Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele, I don’t expect the Cubs are as concerned with maximizing the top end of Wesneski’s velocity range as much as finding the most effective fastball shapes possible. I look forward to the data on those.
I see more variance in Wesneski’s arm slot than I would like, and hope that coach Dan Moskos’ history with Wesneski will help in quickly building mechanical consistency. The control of his offerings is good, but the Major League level will challenge his command. The four seamers need to stay up, high cutters would be good, and he needs to avoid home runs with get-me-over offerings.
Past scouting reports mention a curveball, but I think it has mostly been shelved. The Cubs will look at that pitch off the field and determine if its re-inclusion into the regular arsenal is necessary. The changeup is the more important secondary to tackle, both to fight a potential platoon problem and because it’s closer to Major League quality.
Finally, Wesneski will need to continue to train to build his endurance. In both the 2021 and 2022 seasons, he experienced a June swoon that saw both decreased stuff and results. The next level does not allow for such swoons.
Trying to contextualize him in the system: At this time, I’m finding it incredibly difficult to rank the Cubs’ five best pitching prospects: Wesneski, Caleb Kilian, Jordan Wicks, Cade Horton, and D.J. Herz.
I’d probably right now put Wesneski either third or fourth, but you can pretty easily talk me into any order. The good news is that 2022 won’t go by without allowing us a good look at how the Wesneski arsenal plays against big leaguers. Since he is Rule 5 eligible after the season and needs to be added to the 40-man roster by November anyway, I suspect after a couple outings in Iowa we will see the newly-acquired right-hander in Chicago.
More on Wesneski from Lance Brozdowki: