I Wonder If It's Just About Time for the Cubs to Make a Fifth Starter Announcement

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I Wonder If It’s Just About Time for the Cubs to Make a Fifth Starter Announcement

Chicago Cubs

Last year at this time, it was not necessarily a lock that Justin Steele would be in the Chicago Cubs’ opening rotation. The young lefty had only just moved back into the rotation midway through 2021, and although he flashed plenty of upside in that role, it was always possible that multi-inning relief would wind up his home.

Relatively early in Spring Training, it started to feel clear that Steele was going to make the rotation. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t thinking about his spot for much of the spring.

Steele sums up the difference in mindset for him this spring versus last year, via Marquee:

“I was more so wanting to get on the team and make sure I was on the team last year,” Steele said.

This year, though, he knows he’s not only on the team, but part of the Cubs’ starting rotation.

“I think this year I’m doing a good job of using the full 6 weeks we’ve had,” Steele said. “I’ve been doing a good job of making sure we’re pacing everything and making sure I’m built up to a number of pitches that I wanna be worked up to by the time the start of the season gets here.”

Taking that to this year.

I don’t know that Hayden Wesneski, for example, is going to be HURT by the fact that he was understandably trying to show out a little this spring to win a rotation job, but I also think there are some pretty clear advantages to knowing you’ve got your spot locked in. You can, as Steele has, take your ramp up very carefully and methodically. You can use your outings to try things out, to work on pitches, and to generally make yourself better in the regular season, even if it comes at the expense of that day’s results.

I say all that because I am wondering if, at some point, the Cubs might decide to just go ahead and tell Wesneski that he’s got the fifth starter job, and he can therefore use the final two weeks of Spring Training however will best set him up for success out of the gate in the regular season. Maybe the Cubs want to see one more start each from Wesneski and Adrian Sampson (and maybe one more WBC appearance by Javier Assad?), but I think the job should be Wesneski’s at this point.

None of that is to say that the Cubs won’t still need Sampson and Assad this year. Obviously they will. Stuff happens. But the thing is, even if you are concerned about managing Wesneski’s innings this year, that’s not necessarily enough of a reason not to make him the opening week fifth starter if he looks like he can really make an impact. For this year’s Cubs, wins in the first half of the season are going to be disproportionately important (i.e., avoiding a sell-off in July). It’s also possible that, by the time you want to start managing Wesneski’s innings in the middle of the year – assuming he stays healthy – some other pitcher will have surprised and popped and you’ll want to get him some big league innings. Two birds, one stone, and you didn’t artificially limit your team’s production early in the season.

In other words, for now, Wesneski looks like he has a chance to be a really good big league starter in April. Give him – and yourselves – that chance. In the meantime, maybe tell him so that he can start focusing on the regular season with a little more certainty.

Consider how Wesneski is already trying to focus less on getting results right now, and more on refining himself for what is to come (The Athletic): “To be honest with you, the results are really good and I’m working my tail off, but I’m not as refined as I’d like to be. I’m only throwing in short stints right now, so it makes it a lot easier. Some of the guys haven’t seen me before. There’s just a lot of factors that play into why the results are going so well. Yes, I’m getting outs, but it’s not as clean as I’d like it to be.”

That just has the sound of a guy you’d love to shift into gear-up-for-the-season mode. I feel like Wesneski could do a whole lot of useful prep work.

Bonus quote on Hayden Wesneski from Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, reiterating what we can all kind of sense about the 25-year-old rookie (The Athletic): “He definitely is an internal guy in terms of he has a lot of thoughts, a lot of things going through his head. When it’s game day, he’s similar to a lot of veteran guys that I’ve seen who take it to another level. He has the ability to hold himself to a really high standard. You’ll hear him yell at himself in bullpens warming up for games. He paces in between innings. He can’t sit down. He asks a ton of questions. He’s just constantly trying to process things. You know when there’s days he’s just spouting stuff out and you let him go, and other days you have to kind of hone him in.”

And a bonus thought on announcing things soon: that would also give Sampson and Assad a couple weeks to adjust, mentally, to what’s coming for them. Most likely, that’s an option down to Iowa to keep starting in the rotation there, but it’s also possible one or both wants a chance to be considered as a long relief option out of the gate.

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.