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  • North Side Baseball's 2023 Top 20 Cubs Prospects: #2 - Hayden Wesneski

    Matt Trueblood

    We’ve very nearly attained the summit in our climb up the Cubs’ farm system. Our community has voted on the top 20 players in the system, and today, we tackle the guy who came in second–presumably, because the voters hadn’t seen his first two starts of this season.

    Image courtesy of © Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

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    Several of the players on this list were acquired as part of the dispersion of the Cubs’ championship core. Kevin Alcántara was part of the Anthony Rizzo trade. Caleb Kilian and Alexander Canario came in exchange for Kris Bryant. Yu Darvish netted them Owen Caissie. However, some of the most profitable trades the team has made over the last two years appear to be those involving players who were never major parts of the organization’s success, or its plans. Daniel Palencia came back in the trade that sent Andrew Chafin to Oakland. Ben Brown was the return for David Robertson. Most compelling of this second subset, though, is that the team got Hayden Wesneski from the Yankees for reliever Scott Effross.

    2. Hayden Wesneski - RHP
    Age: 25
    2022 Minors Stats (AAA): 24 G, 110 ⅓ IP, 3.92 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 23.2% K, 9.0% BB, 10 HR
    2022 MLB Stats: 6 G, 33 IP, 2.18 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 25% K, 7.6% BB, 3 HR

    Wesneski’s game centers on his slider. We can’t meaningfully discuss him without talking about that pitch. At the same time, if he’s going to be a successful, full-fledged starter in MLB, he has to have a full arsenal of pitches with which to attack multiple quadrants of the strike zone. He’s still feeling his way toward that level.

    Wesneski is athletic, though with a delivery that favors herk and jerk over the grace and fluidity of some more traditional prospects. He counts on generating a bit of deception, which helps his four-pitch mix play up, especially when he’s throwing a lot of strikes.

    That slider does everything well. When he has the feel for it, Wesneski can throw it for a strike (often freezing hitters), or start it in the zone and let its big, sweeping movement carry it down and away from a right-handed batter. It yields plenty of whiffs, weak contact when batters do touch it, and an elite rate of called strikes when they don’t offer.

    Like all sliders, the pitch does have a significant platoon split. Wesneski can dominate right-handed hitters with just that pitch and his sinker, on a good day, but lefties pose a different challenge. For them, he has a cutter that is good at inducing weak contact. Part of that might be that he throws it from a different slot than his other four pitches. That was a weakness in his four-seamer, and he moved to address it this spring, but he’s kept the cutter at a different arm angle than the rest of his repertoire. That seems to put most hitters on the defensive when he throws it, but it adds a layer of difficulty and challenge to his effort to fill up the zone with all of his stuff.

    So far, Wesneski’s alteration to the release point on his four-seamer hasn’t paid dividends. He’s struggled to throw strikes and get ahead over his first two outings, and he’s still trying to find the mix that lets him miss bats as best his talent will allow.
    We have to be honest about the possibilities here: He might never find that magical mix. As he’s changed the way he throws his four-seamer, he’s lost what little made that pitch a good one. His natural heater is the sinker, but it won’t miss bats or even barrels consistently against lefties. His changeup remains very much a work in progress. 

    Why, then, do we have him so high on this list? There are a few reasons. Firstly, he’s only nominally a prospect at all, given that he’s already thrown almost 40 innings in MLB. That means there’s less risk associated with him than with the pitching prospects in the system who have a higher ceiling. Second, he has that slider, which sets a high floor for him as a setup man in some future bullpen. He’d be a dominant one, too: he’d probably come close to throwing 100 miles per hour in short bursts. 

    Mostly, though, Wesneski ranks this highly because he’s an intense and accountable competitor. He’s unlikely ever to win a Cy Young Award, but he could mature into a solid number-two in even a first-division rotation. If he sharpens his command of the cutter, four-seamer, and change, he could nudge his strikeout rate north of 25 percent, continue to walk batters at an average or lower rate, and work deep enough into games to win 15 of them per year. At least in baseball terms, his makeup is excellent, and that increases the likelihood that he’ll do just that.

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    Even though his season to this point has been one kind of bad start and one really bad start, both sets of pitch modeling data for Hayden are mostly unmoved from where they were last year.  The cutter is getting better grades and the change up worse, but they see him as largely the same dude.  And they LOVE him.

    I worry a bit about platoon issues, he didn't have them last year but with his repertoire you'd expect some.  I also am currently worried that he might have gotten a little out in front of his skis in adding velo this offseason and there will be Kilian-esque impacts on his command.

    But honestly?  The preponderance of evidence is that he's a number 2 starter right now.  He's probably really good, no forecasting or wishing required.

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