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“We wanted to add power arms in these deals, so that’s what we targeted,” Cubs president of baseball Jed Hoyer told Chicago media after the trade deadline passed at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Even after surprising Cubs fans by not trading away some of his biggest trade chips, Hoyer met his goal by acquiring Hayden Wesneski, Ben Brown and Saúl González in trades for Scott Effross (Yankees), David Robertson (Phillies) and Mychal Givens (Mets), respectively.
This post will highlight the three new pitching prospects’ unique features, potential roles and pitch lab targets.
In 19 starts with New York’s Triple-A squad (89 2/3 innings), Wesneski recorded a 3.51 ERA, a 4.00 FIP, an 8.33 K/9 and a 2.81 BB/9. The 6-foot-3 right-hander is nearly major league ready with five individual pitch types: a four-seamer (max in the high 90s), a cutter, a slider, a sinker and a changeup.
Going into the 2022 season, Wesneski was emphatic that the slider is his “out” pitch.
“Hundred percent,” Wesneski told NJ Advance Media’s Randy Miller. “I don’t throw as many sinkers now. The biggest pitches I like throwing are the four-seam, cutter and slider. My cutter is not a true cutter. It’s a small slider. And then my slider is just really big. The cutter I use mainly to lefties.”
Wesneski’s slider movement appears unique. While his complete data isn’t publicly available, we do have some snippets. For instance, a few of his sliders were thrown with over 20 inches of horizontal movement, which is around the 95th percentile for big-league right-handers.
Wesneski’s cutter, which is thrown 87mph, is a nice complement to his slider. According to Driveline’s Stuff+ metric, his cutter rates well above average at 121.
He also throws a changeup that is intriguing, but little data on his offspeed pitch has been released. Grading changeups is also the most error-prone secondary offering. Time will tell if the pitch plays well.
Although I’m not sure if the data will eventually support my eyes, Wesneski’s release point looks especially low. This low release point might be new. He recently changed his mechanics a couple years ago with the help of Daniel Moskos, who used to be the Yankees’ Double-A pitching coach when Wesneski was there in 2021.
One reason Wesneski can throw sliders with over 20 inches of horiontal movement is a low release point, since pitches on a flatter plane are conducive to horizontal breaking action.
Overall, Wesneski’s five-pitch mix — mostly consisting of four-seamers, sliders and cutters — could be a significant factor in the Cubs 2023 rotation. I’m interested to see if he can generate more strikeouts with aid from a familiar face in Moskos, who might continue to help him optimize his secondary offerings.
Brown is an extremely tall, strong, right-handed pitcher. In 15 starts and one relief outing with Philadelphia’s High-A affiliate (73 innings), he put up a 3.08 ERA, a 3.16 FIP, a 12.95 K/9 and a 2.84 BB/9.
When you watch Brown pitch, the first trait that pops is a tall release point. He mostly uses a four-seamer (max in the high 90s), a slider and a curveball.
Some scouts have expressed concern that his breaking pitches need a lot of work. Nevertheless, scouts like that his four-seam fastball plays well, and that’s not surprising since he has an over-the-top release point with presumable rising action.
If his breaking pitches ultimately need optimization, a tall release point could accelerate the process. Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and starter Kyle Hendricks’ have told CHGO’s Ryan Herrera that a tall release point lends well to slider development. As Hendricks said, pitchers with tall release points sometimes have difficulty spinning curves efficiently.
Maybe Brown, who has two breaking pitches — one slower curve-like shape and a separate harder slider-like shape — could opt for the harder version?
The Rays’ Tyler Glasnow changed his breaker from a slow curve shape to a hard slider shape between 2020 and 2021. Glasnow now throws sliders at nearly 6 o’clock, a much sharper vertical shape than the average 9 o’clock slider shape — Glasnow basically has a 12:6 “fast uncle charlie slider.”
Glasnow’s sharp vertical shape and steep approach angle might have led to more darts towards the low, outside portion of the strikezone. In previous years without a slider, Glasnow didn’t throw many pitches towards the lower, outside strikezone and instead threw more pitches below the strikezone.
One way or another, I fully expect the Cubs to mess with Brown’s breaker.
Even taller than Brown is González, who stands 6-foot-7 and was pitching out of the bullpen for the Mets’ Single-A squad as a reliever (14 innings, 2.81 ERA, 2.32 FIP, 10.17 K/9, and 2.45 BB/9). Although González is huge, his fastball only sits between 91-94 mph.
González has extremely long delivery mechanics that might need to be tightened. In the video below, you can see how his arm reaches far behind his back shoulder followed by a high, downward plane.
Of the three arms the Cubs acquired, González represents the most risk. Since he only has two pitch types — a fastball and gyro breaking pitch — a bullpen role seems like his ceiling at this point.
However, the Cubs might see something in his large frame and unique delivery. Maybe they work with him to increase velocity and optimize breaking pitches. Maybe they even add a new pitch type that changes the outlook of his career.
In whichever areas the the Cubs choose to intervene, I expect González will look much different in the future.
Clearly, the Cubs targeted these three pitching prospects with immediate plans of action. Wesneski is hopefully set to pitch big-league innings this year and showcase an exceptional-looking slider. Brown is maybe a year or two away from pitching at the big-league level and might need to optimize his breaking pitches. González has a longer road ahead of him and might need to add velocity while growing more comfortable with his gyro-looking secondary pitch.
Now, it’s up to the Cubs’ pitch lab to make the most of the new acquisitions.
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