David Ross Names the 5th Starter Contenders: Sampson, Wesneski, Assad, and Non-Roster Invites

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David Ross Names the 5th Starter Contenders: Sampson, Wesneski, Assad, and Non-Roster Invites

Chicago Cubs

We have all generally expected that, when the rubber met the road, Adbert Alzolay and Keegan Thompson would be in the Opening Day bullpen, rather than the rotation. There’s so much depth available for the rotation and those two guys have shown they can be SO GOOD in multi-inning roles that it just made sense not to mess with something good in the hopes that you could get something ever-so-slightly better.

That said, given the injury risks in Spring Training and the fact that Alzolay and Thompson might get a little stretched out anyway (whether because they could start or because of multi-inning appearances), I didn’t necessarily expect to hear about their roles until much later in camp.

But David Ross is cutting to the chase:

First and foremost, the news there is the confirmation that Thompson will go through all of camp with the relievers (we knew Alzolay would be there sooner rather than later, so that’s less of a February surprise).

Secondly, though, there are the specific names mentioned for the fifth starter competition, with Kyle Hendricks opening the season on the Injured List. If everyone in the organization was perfectly healthy, the rotation probably includes Hendricks, together with the presumed front four of Marcus Stroman, Jameson Taillon, Justin Steele, and Drew Smyly.

I think, all else equal, Adrian Sampson probably has the inside edge for the fifth spot, having pitched so well in the rotation last year. Each of Hayden Wesneski and Javier Assad still have theoretical “prospect” things to work on and innings to be managed, which can be accomplished much more easily at Triple-A than in the big league rotation.

So if all three are healthy, and none is just looking ABSURDLY incredible by the end of Spring Training, I think it’ll be Sampson to open the season. That said, you can’t rule out one of Wesneski or Assad (more likely the former) looking too good not to include in the rotation.

As for the non-roster invites, I’m going to guess that Ross is referring to Roenis Elias and Nick Neidert, each of whom has had significant starting success in the last 12 months, albeit not at the big league level. For Elias, it was a dominant run in winter ball. For Neidert, it was at Triple-A with the Marlins. Even if they don’t win roster spots to open the season, each is going to factor into the pitching/starting depth equation.

It’s important to remember: this is about the “fifth starter” in a world where all of the “front four” starters are perfectly healthy and ready to start the season on time. That may not happen. So it’s possible multiple of these guys will open the season in the rotation.

It’s also important remember that these spots are going to be fluid throughout the year as guys get injured, as performances change, as roles change, and as young guys simply look ready. The five guys who open the season in the rotation aren’t going to be the same five guys in the rotation come June, much less come September.

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.