For Cubs to compete, these 5 must produce

January 2nd, 2023

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian's Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

In order to make a postseason push in 2023, the Cubs sought free agent reinforcements. The North Siders added an impact starter in Jameson Taillon, a comeback candidate and former MVP in center fielder Cody Bellinger and reeled in star shortstop Dansby Swanson with a blockbuster contract.

Those pieces should help strengthen the roster in different ways, but breakout showings from some in-house pieces would really help. Here are five players already in hand who could determine the trajectory of the North Siders in 2023.

1. Seiya Suzuki
There were plenty of challenges for Suzuki to navigate in his first Major League season in 2022. Not only did he have to learn new pitchers and delivery styles, but the Cubs’ outfielder had to adjust to travel, different time zones, a new city, language barriers and more. He burst onto the scene (.934 OPS in April) and finished strong (.847 OPS in his last month) and encountered injury setbacks and a midseason adjustment period as pitchers learned his tendencies. Suzuki should better know what to expect and how to handle it in ’23, setting him up for a potential breakout. That would do wonders for Chicago’s lineup.

Steele already enjoyed a breakout showing of sorts in 2022, but health setbacks limited him to 24 starts and 119 innings. In ’23, the Cubs could benefit from having him develop into a rotation workhorse. The 27-year-old lefty had a 3.18 ERA and was in the 95th percentile in barrel rate (3.9 percent). He was stellar from June to August, posting a 2.05 ERA in that span. That trailed only Dylan Cease (1.47 ERA), Justin Verlander (1.72 ERA) and Julio Urías (1.97 ERA) in the Majors in that stretch (min. 70 IP).

In a perfect world, the Cubs would build up enough depth to where Morel can fill in as a super utility man until he better establishes himself as an everyday player. The energetic and exciting Morel bounced all over the diamond in 2022 (second, short, third, center and left) and was outstanding across May and June (.836 OPS) before a late-season slide (.667 OPS from July on). The additions of Bellinger and Swanson should help Chicago find the best days and matchups to get the most out of Morel as he continues to learn and grow.

Alzolay could be an answer for a Cubs bullpen filled with question marks. The righty returned from a season-long shoulder issue in September and was electric down the stretch as a multi-inning reliever. His velocity was up, and the small-sample success was impressive (19 strikeouts vs. two walks in 13 1/3 innings). For his MLB career, Alzolay has a 2.32 ERA with 55 strikeouts and 11 walks in 42 2/3 innings as a reliever (18 games), compared to a 5.19 ERA in 130 innings (27 games) with 134 strikeouts vs. 47 walks as a starter.

Acquired from the Yankees for reliever Scott Effross last season, the 25-year-old Wesneski opened eyes with his late-season audition. In six games (four starts), the righty spun a 2.18 ERA with 33 strikeouts and seven walks in 33 innings. There is no guarantee Wesneski (MLB Pipeline’s No. 12 Cubs prospect) cracks the Opening Day roster, but there is a huge opportunity for him to seize a rotation job.