With deeper talent pool, who will Cubs lean on in '23?

RHPs Wesneski (first MLB start) and Alzolay (season debut) impress vs. Rockies

September 17th, 2022

CHICAGO -- let out a laugh when asked what it is like to watch a Cubs game with him. The high-energy pitcher has spent much of this season in Arizona, catching as many broadcasts as possible while working his way back from an arm injury.

"It's a lot happening," Alzolay said. "You will see my wife just looking at me like, 'What is going on with you?'"

On Saturday, Alzolay got to watch in person as pitching prospect fashioned an impressive MLB starting debut, striking out seven over seven innings in a 3-1 loss to the Rockies at Wrigley Field. Alzolay spent years in the part-of-the-future category and is now witnessing other in-house arms join the club.

Alzolay was part of a homegrown wave of rotation options -- alongside and -- who began establishing themselves with the Cubs last year. Steele and Thompson further solidified their place this season, while a handful of other younger pitchers have started trickling into the mix.

Rather than focusing on an up-and-coming crop of starters who now present competition for 2023, Alzolay beams when discussing the growing list of pitching prospects ascending the system.

"I was down there for almost six months," said Alzolay, who was activated from the 60-day injured list on Saturday. "I saw everything we have down there. I saw the arms we have down there and everything. It just gives the organization that thinking of, now they can start building, because we have the foundation already, I believe. I believe we have the arms."

Of course, it is never that simple.

"It's hard to hang your hat on 'could' or 'should' or 'might,'" Cubs manager David Ross said this week. "There's some question marks."

The goal for the Cubs would be to field a 2023 rotation that has a mixture of impact veterans, emerging arms and then a group of impact prospects next on the depth chart. As things currently stand, here is how that blueprint would look for the North Siders:

• Veterans: has been a reliable staff leader when healthy this year and is under contract for at least 2023. was shut down in July and heads into this winter hoping to make a full recovery from a right shoulder issue. Lefties (mutual option) and (free agent) may or may not be back.

• Emerging arms: Steele (2.05 ERA since the start of June, but currently on the injured list due to a lower back strain) has pitched himself into the rotation plans. There might still be discussion about Thompson, who has done well as a starter and thrived as a multi-inning bullpen option. , 30, has filled in admirably amid injuries and presents an interesting depth piece.

• Prospects: Wesneski (No. 12 on MLB Pipeline's Top 30 Cubs list) and Caleb Kilian (No. 14) were acquired at the Trade Deadline during these two rebuilding seasons and debuted this year. Javier Assad is not on Pipeline's list, but he has been solid in his initial taste of The Show. Behind them are names like Jordan Wicks (No. 5), Ben Brown (No. 7), D.J. Herz (No. 13) and Daniel Palencia (No. 19), among others.

Wesneski was asked if he has contemplated how he might fit into the 2023 staff.

“It crosses my mind,” said Wesneski, who has a 2.30 ERA with 18 strikeouts against two walks in 15 2/3 innings for the Cubs. “But we've got a long ways before that happens. … With all this going on, it kind of just puts my head away from what I should be doing in the future. I'm just trying to stay here day by day, to be honest with you.”

It would make a lot of sense for the Cubs to go after more experienced rotation help -- especially to join Stroman at the top -- if the club wants to make an aggressive push forward in 2023.

"The things that we know going into it right now," Ross said, "I think Justin Steele has done a really nice job of putting himself in a position to be in the rotation. I think Marcus Stroman obviously has done a really nice job. We need to get Keegan back, and then I don't know after that, right? I don't know if anybody can talk about certainty after that."

For what it is worth, Alzolay sounds ready to do his part.

Alzolay will work as a reliever down the stretch -- he struck out the side in the eighth and then allowed a pair of runs in the ninth -- and is open-minded about his role for the Cubs in 2023. If keeping him in the bullpen helps the front office's winter maneuvering, Alzolay is up for it.

"We're building something. We're trying to win," Alzolay said. "So for me, if my role is best out of the bullpen -- being a long guy, being a guy that can throw in the eighth, or close the game or whatever -- I feel like I have the weapons to do that.

"And then, I feel it's more versatility for the team and for the manager also. ... I feel like there’s a lot more options there. And then that allows the team to go on and be aggressive during the offseason."