Sunday Rundown: Wesneski Perfect Against Dodgers, PCA Goes Hi-Tech, Hendricks Progressing

There has been so much going on with the Chicago Bears that I have genuinely lost my place when it comes to the Cubs. I’m so thankful the Rundown provides a chance for me to catch up.

I’m not the first to plant my flag on this turf, but I think we can all agree that Hayden Wesneski has earned a spot in Chicago’s rotation. I see Wesneski as a solid No. 2 starter at the peak of his MLB development, and he might be there already. He pitched four perfect innings with four punchouts in Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch. Wesneski now has 11 strikeouts and no earned runs yielded over 8.2 Cactus League innings. I’ve said it previously, but his mound presence reminds me of Jake Arrieta.

“He’s definitely got that ‘it’ factor,” manager David Ross said. “It doesn’t feel like things speed up on him at times. And he’s got some grit to him.”

We were all a little disappointed when Jed Hoyer traded Scott Effross to the Yankees to acquire Wesneski, and though it’s too early to tell, it might rival the deal that gave Chicago Pete Crow-Armstrong for Javier Báez. It could be an even bigger fleecing, and that’s no offense to Effross because Wesneski could be truly special. He pitched to a 2.18 ERA in 33 innings with 33 strikeouts in 2022. If he makes the squad, he has to be an early frontrunner for Rookie of the Year.

He’ll probably need to stay in the rotation all season to earn consideration and the Cubs will have a numbers crunch once Kyle Hendricks is ready to return. Justin Steele, Marcus Stroman, Jameson Taillon, and Drew Smyly have spots locked up. With that in mind, Wesneski could still be sent to Iowa in favor of Adrian Sampson, who could transition to a swingman role once Hendricks is healthy.

Still, the Cubs have a better shot at disrupting the NL Central if Wesneski gets his 32 starts. Hoyer knows his roster is still a year away from being serious World Series contenders, but I’d rather see Wesneski further his development in Chicago than in Iowa. The 25-year-old has nothing to prove at Triple-A.

Cubs News & Notes

Midwest Farm Report

Crow-Armstrong has been eschewing traditional training methods in favor of a more technology-based approach. He’ll often simulate at-bats against Aroldis Chapman from the confines of his hotel room in Mesa. The top prospect said an invitation by his agents led to a partnership with WIN Reality, a virtual-reality training company for baseball and softball players.

The outfielder started using the technology while he was with Myrtle Beach last season, and the results speak for themselves. He batted .354 with a 1.000 OPS in 158 plate appearances for the Pelicans. He also hit .591 against Carolina League lefthanders. PCA continued that improvement when he was promoted to South Bend.

It sounds to me like the Cubs should embrace, if not lease that technology for the team’s younger players. I’d love to see what WIN Reality could do for Christopher Morel. Imagine what it might do for Nico Hoerner!

Big League Chew

The Cubs have some real gamers on this year’s roster, which is why the team’s new brand of baseball is so much more enjoyable. Mancini, Hosmer, Taillon, Yan Gomes, Tucker Barnhart, and Dansby Swanson all came to Chicago with the intent of competing with the Cardinals and Brewers for a division championship. Gomes sees himself and Barnhart as co-starters, and any perceived pecking order appears to be a foreign concept.

“You’re trying to find ways we’re going to complement each other in every way that we can,” said Gomes. “Obviously, he brings a lot of experience and has had a lot of good seasons. So there’s a lot of trust there in what he does. I’m excited to get to learn from him and get to work together.”

Swanson had reservations about signing with the Cubs but is a big believer in the team’s future. He certainly had several suitors and might have earned a bigger contract if teams were more aware of the injury history of Carlos Correa. Swanson had a couple of private conversations with Ross and determined that Hoyer is building something great in Chicago.

“He’s always thinking about how to get an edge,” Ross said. “It’s a winning mindset. Everything he’s talking about or doing is either giving you a hard time about not being perfect or giving you a little bit of the knowledge that he’s learned in his time in other places. It’s always surrounded by winning. It was easy to see that in our meetings in the offseason when we were recruiting him. That hasn’t changed. It’s even been more at the forefront.”

Tailon has a John Lackey-like swagger. The veteran righty was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft but has been more dependable than great throughout his career. He’s 31 years old now, and the best may still be yet to come. Taillon signed a four-year, $68 million deal this offseason, part of Hoyer’s roster reboot, though he felt the sale pitch was a bit overboard.

“It’s an interesting way to recruit players,” he said. “Some guys might get turned off by that. Like, ‘Hey, I feel like I’m pretty good. I know what I’m doing.’ But they came to me and showed me specific things we could target and get better at that (were) really attractive. And then once I got on board and signed, the pitching coaches were quick to send me throwing programs, drills, videos, and all sorts of things.”

The Cubs’ new marketing slogan is #NextStartsHere. Perhaps that’s a nod to the throwback squad Hoyer has put together.

Sunday Six-Pack

  1. More Songs About Buildings and Food by Talking Heads. The combination of David Byrne and Brian Eno makes for a delightfully rhythmic long player.
  2. Violator by Depeche Mode. The closest thing to commercial pop the band ever released, but it’s still dark and texturally brooding. If your Cimmerian self feels hoodwinked because DM became global superstars thanks to Violator, remember that a dude named Kervorkian mixed this album.
  3. Strangeways Here We Come by The Smiths. If we were playing Pyramid, and my clue was “lushly layered and sardonic orchestral themes” you’d undoubtedly say Strangeways. It’s playfully melodramatic, which actually describes the pairing of Morrissey and Johnny Marr.
  4. Songs from the Big Chair by Tears for Fears. Those popped collars and mullets. Am I right? The best 42 minutes of pure pop since the Beatles.
  5. Aliens Ate My Buick by Thomas Dolby. An abrupt change in direction caused the critics to pan this album but trust me when I say they are all wrong. Dolby described it as “a crazy postcard home from a British expatriate on a debauched visit to Hollywood.” To me, it’s a hazy IPA in a bland sea of Coors and Miller Light, especially the linked song, which grooves like a Prince number.
  6. The Colour of Spring by Talk Talk. Limiting the use of synthesizers made for a more ambient production, resulting in the band’s finest release. One of the most critically underrated bands of all time.

This Week’s Money Quotes

  • “[Camp] has been very calm. I feel like I’m connecting with the players a little more than I had in the past. It used to be constantly organizing and trying to plan and having so many meetings in the morning with my staff and the minor-league staff. Now we don’t even have these meetings anymore. If stuff comes up, I grab an individual coach or we talk through things during the game.”David Ross
  • “To be honest with you, I’m throwing good, yes, and the results are really good and I’m working my tail off, but I’m not as refined as I’d like to be, especially during a season. Yes, I’m getting outs, but it’s not as clean as I’d like it to be.” – Wesneski
  • “Being able to push it and push the intensity on my big days and coming in the next day and still warming it up, still getting it right and still feeling good and being able to just throw light and get it moving. That’s huge mentally to know I’m back-to-back and recovering.” – Hendricks
  • “I like to get dirty. That’s who I am as a baseball player. I think that’s kind of my personality. I like to get down and grind.” – Crow-Armstrong

Sunday Funnies

A big thanks to Cubs beat writer Jordan Bastian for this eccentric look at the past. I hope you all have a wonderful St. Patrick’s week.

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