Wesneski making strong case for rotation: 'He knows that he belongs'

March 11th, 2023

Consider the depth of the mental inventory Cubs manager David Ross can draw upon from his days as a catcher when he discusses pitchers. If Ross says a young pitcher has a veteran presence to him, trust that Jon Lester's former batterymate knows a thing or two about such matters.

That is precisely the kind of description Ross offers when talking about rookie right-hander . The manager praises Wesneski's advanced feel for his strengths and weaknesses and speaks highly of how the young pitcher balances the present moment against the big picture.

"He knows that he belongs," Ross said earlier this month. "But, he also has a way about him that he's not, 'I'm the fifth starter. I'm this or that.' He knows that this is a process."

This is not to say that Wesneski -- ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Cubs' No. 5 prospect -- does not want that lone vacancy in the Cubs' rotation.

Wesneski certainly handled his side of things in Saturday's 5-2 win over the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch, piecing together four perfect innings. The righty racked up four strikeouts and generated nine swinging strikes overall. On the spring, Wesneski now has 11 strikeouts and no earned runs yielded over 8 2/3 innings.

Ross is absolutely right: Wesneski is able to keep the long view in mind when talking about learning from veterans, building towards being a reliable innings workhorse and diving into little details now to make him a better pitcher down the road. At the same time, the righty sees the opportunity in front of him and wants to seize it.

That is very much a challenging mental balance to strike.

"Oh man, it's tough," Wesneski said recently. "It's one of the things where you kind of battle it every day. I don't even know how to put it into words, really, because it's one of the things with my whole life. It's always, you prove and you prove and you prove. And then now it's like, 'OK, now I actually have a chance.'

"It's one of those things, it's weird, because you're in a spot where you actually have a chance now. It's a different mindset, but I kind of go back to just doing [my] job, right? I've got to make a pitch at a time. And then if I don't make it, it's, 'I did what I could.'"

The front of Chicago's starting staff features veterans Marcus Stroman, Jameson Taillon and Drew Smyly. Coming off a breakout season last year, lefty Justin Steele also has a job in hand. There is a spot available, as veteran Kyle Hendricks works his way back from a shoulder issue and delivery alteration. Ross has named Wesneski a contender, along with the more-experienced Adrian Sampson and fellow rookie Javier Assad.

The Cubs have to decide if the 25-year-old Wesneski would benefit more from starting regularly with Triple-A Iowa or being in the last slot of Chicago's staff. In the Minors, the Cubs could better control the early-season innings for Wesneski, who logged 143 1/3 frames last year between Triple-A and the Majors.

Then again, the Cubs might feel that Wesneski's talent and potential give the team its best chance to rack up wins.

"He's definitely got that 'it' factor," Ross said. "It doesn't feel like things speed up on him at times. And he's got some grit to him."

Even before the Cubs landed Wesneski from the Yankees in a trade for reliever Scott Effross last summer, the club had heard good things. Assistant pitching coach Daniel Moskos was more than familiar with the righty from his days coaching in New York's farm system.

It did not take Wesneski long to back up those rave internal reviews, either. In his MLB debut against the Reds on Sept. 6, he struck out eight over five scoreless relief innings. On Sept. 22, Wesneski spun an immaculate inning against the Pirates. Overall, he logged a 2.18 ERA with 33 strikeouts and seven walks in 33 innings.

If Wesneski felt he could get big league hitters out, now he knew it.

"It's definitely a big deal," Wesneski said. "It's something that you don't truly know until you're into it."

The young pitcher then zoomed out, showing off that ability to see the bigger picture that Ross spoke about.

"But, I've started to notice that every year's different," Wesneski continued. "Last year was really cool. But, this year, I'm going to face new problems. I'm going to have to face new teams. You can't treat every year the same."