Pitchers and catchers report to Arizona next week for the start of Spring Training. The Cubs starting rotation is pretty much set barring any unforeseen injuries. Kyle Hendricks remains a question mark, however, as he continues his recovery from a capsular tear in his throwing shoulder. It has already been announced Hendricks will be “a little behind schedule.” That will leave one spot remaining to compete over during Cactus League play.
What It Looks Like
- Marcus Stroman: With Hendricks out, the second-year Cub enters 2023 as the leader of the Cubs starting staff and projects to make his first Opening Day start as a Cub. 2022 saw Stroman go 6-7 with a 3.50 ERA for the Cubs in his 25 starts. He had 119 strikeouts with 36 walks and 123 hits in 138.2 innings pitched. Stroman was hindered by injury last season and found himself on the IL on three occasions.
- Justin Steele: The lefty went 4-7 in 24 starts with the Cubs in 2022. He posted a 3.18 ERA behind 126 strikeouts and 50 walks while pitching over 100 innings for the first time in his career. I think Steele will continue to progress and will be at the top of the rotation for years to come.
- Jameson Taillon: The new Cub went 14-5 with a 3.91 ERA for the postseason-bound Yankees in 2022. In 163 innings pitched, Taillon whiffed 151 batters while walking 32 and giving up 168 hits. His 32 starts tied a career high for him.
- Drew Smyly: Yes, you read that right. I skipped the fourth spot on purpose for balance sake as favorites to fill in for Hendricks are all right-handed. With that covered let’s move on to the left-handed Smyly. In 2022, Smyly was slowed by shoulder and oblique injuries. He posted a 3.47 ERA when on the mound but only threw 106.1 innings. In that time, he struck out 91 batters while walking 26 and allowing 101 hits. Smyly is returning to the Cubs on a two-year deal.
The Fourth Spot
I have a trio of right-handed pitchers ready to slot in for Kyle Hendricks. You really can’t go wrong with any of the three and I’m sure all of them will see time on the mound at Wrigley Field sometime during the season. My favorite of the three is Hayden Wesneski so we will start with him.
Wesneski joined the Cubs in 2022 after being traded over by the Yankees. He threw in 6 games while starting 4 games. I hesitated a bit to put him as my favorite to fill in for Hendricks as he had the least experience at the Major League level. His electric “stuff” puts him over the top for me. Wesneski struck out 33 batters in 33 innings pitched while walking 7 and giving up 24 hits. He posted a 2.18 ERA while just getting his feet wet with the Cubs. I see Wesneski leading the rotation of the future with Steele. Preferably, he starts the season in this spot or is in the rotation in Iowa. I don’t want to see him bouncing back and forth between starting and relieving.
Next up is Keegan Thompson. He threw 115 innings in his second year with the Cubs in 29 games while starting 17 of those. Thompson struck out 108 batters, walked 43, and gave up 103 hits behind a 3.76 ERA. The ERA was higher than his rookie year but he almost tripled the amount of games started compared to 2021.
Finally, we come to Adrian Sampson. At 31, Sampson is more seasoned than the other two. Entering his third season with the Cubs, Sampson has spent time between Iowa and Chicago in both prior years. He had some brief experience with the Rangers and Mariners prior to coming to the Cubs organization. Sampson threw a career high 104.1 big league innings while starting in 19 of his 21 appearances. His 3.45 ERA was the lowest in his career. He struck out 73 while giving up 27 free bases and 101 hits.
As long as the injury bug stays away, the Cubs have plenty of depth to have a solid rotation. All three options I have listed would be a perfectly fine substitute for Hendricks while he continues his recovery and prepares to start his tenth (where has the time gone?) season with the Cubs. There is another conversation to be had at some point down the road about the depth. We will hold off on that one for now though.
Featured Image: Charles Red Arbogast/Associated Press