With left-hander Shota Imanaga poised to hitch Justin Steele, Jameson Taillon, and Kyle Hendricks within the Cubs’ rotation rather than Marcus Stroman this season after the veteran righty signed with the Yankees final month, one spot stays open within the membership’s beginning rotation with pitchers and catchers set to report back to camp for Spring Coaching subsequent week. Whereas it’s not unattainable to think about a shock commerce for or signing of an arm reminiscent of Shane Bieber (who the Cubs had been related to earlier this winter) or Jordan Montgomery, all indications level towards the Cubs turning their consideration in direction of a reunion with Cody Bellinger at this level within the offseason.
Ought to Chicago enter the 2024 marketing campaign with solely their inside rotation choices, right here’s a take a look at who might be into account to hitch the beginning 5:
The 34-year-old left-hander, in some methods, seems to be the apparent alternative for the ultimate spot within the Cubs’ rotation. Signed to a two-year, $19MM contract final winter, Smyly began 23 video games for Chicago final 12 months and loved an excessive amount of success early within the season, together with a 10-strikeout recreation in late April the place the southpaw got here fell simply 4 outs wanting an ideal recreation. By 15 begins, Smyly had a powerful 3.38 ERA and a good FIP of 4.33, although his strikeout charge of simply 19.9% raised some eyebrows.
Sadly for Smyly, the wheels got here off from there for him. He posted a 9.00 ERA and 6.88 FIP in 35 innings of labor throughout his subsequent eight appearances and located himself demoted to the bullpen, the place he discovered some strong success in brief aid. In sixteen aid appearances from August 13 onward, Smyly dominated with a 1.13 ERA in 20 2/3 innings of labor and a 33.7% strikeout charge. These robust aid outings didn’t translate to raised efficiency out of the rotation, nonetheless, as Smyly surrendered 10 runs in simply 4 innings of labor throughout his last two begins of the season on August 22 and October 1.
Given Smyly’s superlative outcomes out of the bullpen late within the season and his pronounced struggles as a member of the rotation, it appears unlikely that the Cubs would provide Smyly the within monitor to the fifth starter function coming into the 2024 marketing campaign, although it’s doable he might earn the function via a mix of robust efficiency this spring and accidents to different choices.
Wesneski gained a camp battle for the membership’s fifth starter spot final spring, beating out veteran right-hander Adrian Sampson for the function. Wesneski’s alternative within the rotation got here on the heels of a stellar debut late within the 2022 season, shortly after Chicago acquired him from the Yankees on the commerce deadline in alternate for sidearming reliever Scott Effross. In six appearances down the stretch for the Cubs that 12 months, Wesneski dominated to a 2.18 ERA and three.20 FIP whereas hanging out 25% of batters confronted.
Sadly, Wesneski’s 2023 audition for a rotation job didn’t go practically as nicely, as he allowed a 5.33 ERA and 5.96 FIP throughout 50 2/3 innings of labor over 11 appearances (10 begins) to open the season. Wesneski was moved to multi-inning aid shortly there after and would make only one begin (which lasted solely two innings) the remainder of the season, posting a good 3.72 ERA and 4.86 FIP in 38 2/3 innings of labor over his last 23 appearances. It’s not exhausting to think about Wesneski returning to the beginning rotation in some unspecified time in the future sooner or later, because the 26-year-old stays below membership management via the 2028 marketing campaign, although it seems seemingly he has been surpassed by different children on the rotational depth chart in the interim.
Probably the most skilled arm on this checklist exterior of Smyly, the 26-year-old Assad made his massive league debut in 2022 and pitched decently in a nine-appearance cup of espresso the place he posted a 3.11 ERA and 4.49 FIP over 37 2/3 innings of labor. Assad competed with Sampson and Wesneski for the fifth starter function out of camp final 12 months, although his bid for the function was sophisticated by a detour to take part within the World Baseball Traditional for Workforce Mexico.
Assad’s time within the event noticed him dazzle with 5 2/3 scoreless innings of labor as a multi-inning reliever. He struck out six on simply two hits and a stroll whereas touching 97 together with his heater. The robust efficiency in a aid function led the Cubs to enter the season with Assad in that function, although he struggled to a 9.82 ERA in 7 1/3 innings throughout his first three appearances for Chicago final 12 months, prompting the membership to choice him to Triple-A.
Upon returning to the majors in early Might, Assad dominated out of the bullpen for the subsequent three months, posting a 2.11 ERA in 42 2/3 innings of labor throughout 16 appearances regardless of a 4.01 FIP. The Cubs then moved him to the rotation for almost all of the stretch run, and the right-hander held his personal within the function with a 2.88 ERA and 4.25 FIP in 59 1/3 innings of labor throughout the season’s last two months. Assad’s high quality work within the rotation down the stretch with Chicago final summer season ought to give him the chance to earn the ultimate spot within the membership’s rotation this spring, although its doable the Cubs worth his versatility as a participant who’s had success swinging out and in of the rotation all through his younger profession.
Chicago’s first spherical choose within the 2021 draft, Wicks has probably the most spectacular prospect pedigree of any of the membership’s seemingly fifth starter choices this spring. The southpaw has shortly climbed the minor league ladder and reached the majors final 12 months with simply 48 begins within the minor leagues below his belt, resulting in some high 100 prospect buzz this winter with ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel rating Wicks because the #41 prospect in your complete sport, simply 5 spots behind Kyle Harrison of the Giants. That spectacular rating is basically backed up by Wicks’ efficiency on the sector. In 20 begins break up between the Double- and Triple-A ranges final 12 months, Wicks posted a 3.55 ERA in 91 1/3 innings of labor whereas punching out 26.5% of batters confronted.
The lefty’s main league debut went practically as nicely, as he posted a 3.00 ERA with a 3.95 FIP in 33 innings of labor throughout his first six begins within the massive leagues, although he struck out simply 17% of batters confronted throughout that point. Sadly, Wicks suffered the primary blow-up begin of his massive league profession in his last begin of the season, surrendering six runs on six hits and one stroll in simply 1 2/3 innings of labor in opposition to the Brewers. That left him with a uninspiring 4.41 ERA and 4.70 FIP throughout his first style of huge league motion, although he did generate grounders at a strong 46.8% clip throughout that point.
Given the success he’s flashed within the majors and his prospect pedigree, it could hardly be a shock to see the Cubs hand Wicks the keys to the ultimate spot in Chicago’s rotation this spring, although its doable his low strikeout charge within the majors and ugly last begin final 12 months lead the membership to imagine the 24-year-old southpaw, who has pitched simply 33 innings on the Triple-A stage thus far in his profession, wants extra time to develop within the minors earlier than becoming a member of the rotation full time.
The aforementioned 4 arms look like the more than likely inside choices for the Cubs’ fifth starter spot to open the season, although there are at handful of darkish horse choices price a point out as nicely. High pitching prospect Cade Horton was the membership’s first spherical choose within the 2022 draft and is mostly regarded even higher than Wicks after he dominated the decrease minors to the tune of a 2.65 ERA in 21 begins final 12 months. With that being stated, the 22-year-old has no expertise above the Double-A stage, the place he made simply six begins final 12 months, and has not but been stretched out to the extent required for a giant league beginning pitcher as he topped 75 pitches in an outing simply 3 times final 12 months.
Ben Brown is one other prospect who has gotten top-100 buzz for the Cubs. In contrast to Horton, he’s already on the 40-man roster and has reached the Triple-A stage, although he struggled to a 5.33 ERA on the stage final 12 months whereas strolling 15.8% of batters confronted on the stage. Porter Hodge and Caleb Kilian are two different beginning pitching prospects already on Chicago’s 40-man roster, although Hodge has but to pitch above the Double-A stage and Kilian has struggled to a 12.42 ERA throughout six appearances within the majors, leaving every way more more likely to open the season within the minors.