With the 2023 MLB regular season less than two weeks away, a battle for the fifth starting pitcher position continues. Right now – on March 19 – Hayden Wesneski is winning that battle against Adrian Sampson and Javier Assad.

Wesneski, now a second-year starter following a mid-season trade to the Cubs during his rookie campaign, was dominant in his six appearances last season. He mustered a 2.18 ERA over 33 eye-opening innings of work, limiting opposing hitters to a sub-Mendoza Line batting average. He also posted an elite 0.94 WHIP.

Photo: NBC Sports Chicago

In other words, the Cubs snagged great value in the trade for Wesneski from the New York Yankees.

Sampson, a 31-year-old veteran pitcher, was designated for assignment by the Northsiders, and then returned to Chicago three weeks later, remaining on the big-league roster the final four months. Sampson stamped his spot in the starting rotation down the stretch, starting 19 games in 21 appearances, amassing a 3.11 ERA along the way

Sampson truly stepped up in the last month of the season, dominating in his final eight starts

If the qualifications for this season’s starting rotation solely depended on last season’s production, Sampson would fit that mold. In spring training, however, something has shifted for the worse.

In 8.1 spring training innings this March, Sampson has a 14.04 ERA in three games. His biggest issue so far – allowing home runs – is something he was really good at limiting before this season. He has allowed more home runs during this season’s spring training than his previous 43 innings of spring work. 

Despite over 100 impressive regular-season innings in 2022, Sampson’s job is not guaranteed in 2023.

Unfortunately for Sampson, Wesneski has continued to impress. Before allowing four earned runs against the Los Angeles Dodgers Friday, Wesneski had allowed zero earned runs all of spring.

Wesneski has been a punch-out machine so far, striking out 17 batters in 12 innings of work, while only gifting a free base to four batters. 

Moving to the international world of baseball, Javier Assad has dominated the World Baseball Classic, which opened up conversations about his spot in the starting rotation.

Assad delivered a masterful performance for Team Mexico against the United States and some of the best hitters the game has to offer. It only took Assad 37 pitches to glide through three scoreless innings in Mexico’s dominant 11-5 showing.

Assad finished only allowing one hit – to superstar Mike Trout – while striking out two American batters.

Assad’s performance against one of the best lineups in baseball history has turned heads in the Cubs’ front office. While he might not earn the final starting job come early April, he has earned his right on the opening-day roster.

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