The Cubs seem like they are close to being ready to give up on Hayden Wesneski. But maybe, just maybe, we shouldn’t be.
In a recent interview with MLB.com, Chicago pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said he would expect Wesneski, a 26-year-old right-hander from Texas, to be stretched out as a starter and compete for a rotation spot this spring. He didn’t sound like he was brimming with excitement about Wesneski — noting that adding a starter to a rotation of Justin Steele, Kyle Hendricks, and Jameson Taillon (prior to the Shota Imanaga signing) could “help push other guys into bullpen pieces.” The lack of specificity in the phrase “other guys” is never good if you are one of the “other guys.”
But pitching is difficult to predict, and for a talented, once-highly-regarded prospect like Wesneski, whom the Cubs acquired from the Yankees in a 2022 trade for sidearm reliever Scott Effross, there was clearly a reason behind his acquisition.
“What stood out was the quality of the worker, the diligence, the aptitude, the curiosity. If you were to try and put together the personality of a young pitcher that is on a path towards success, those are attributes that you would look over,” Craig Breslow, the Cubs’ former assistant general manager and current Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer, said in 2023.
Wesneski was a popular breakout pick among fantasy circles before the 2023 campaign, and if you invested significant draft capital in him, you were probably left disappointed. Following a dazzling 33-inning stint in the big leagues in 2022 in which he compiled a 2.18 ERA, he posted a 4.63 ERA in 89.1 innings last year, falling out of the starting rotation and spending the season commuting between Wrigley and Triple-A Iowa. Despite rising on prospect lists because of his fastball and slider — both of which got a 60 grade from MLB Pipeline — he lost his way last year.
It’s possible the righty had been tipping pitches at some points — The Chicago Sun-Times reported he was adjusting his arm slot with his pitch selection. It’s also likely he struggled with mechanical issues, which stints in Triple-A helped him work out. And he had practically zero success getting lefties out. In December, Ken Rosenthal reported that teams had inquired about Wesneski’s availability on the trade market.
Early in the season last year, I wrote about Steele’s breakout potential. He had already sort of broken out in 2022 (3.18 ERA, 119 innings). But his 2023 really turned heads, and for good reason. He tossed 173.1 innings with a 3.06 ERA, a season that was so good he was legitimately in Cy Young conversations. Is another breakout in the works? I think Wesneski still has that potential.
One Big Problem
Wesneski pitched his way into enough success as a minor-leaguer that he was regarded as a big loss for Yankees fans when they dealt him away in the deal for Effross. He rose as high as No. 8 on the team’s prospect list, largely powered by breakout 2021 and 2022 campaigns in the minors.