Justin Steele has evolved into a frontline starter for the Cubs

(Photo by Matt Dirksen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matt Dirksen/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs are betting heavily on their ability to develop a steady stream of young arms as they turn the page on an era dominated by a core loaded with position players that led them to their first World Series in 108 years.

If what we’ve seen from Justin Steele since late May is any indication, the future is bright.

The Cubs southpaw twirled another gem his last time out, allowing just one unearned run over six innings against Washington, lowering his ERA on the year to 3.43. Dating back to late May, Steele boasts a 2.48 ERA and over his last eight starts, he’s been even better, evidenced by a 1.67 ERA.

Cubs have a rotation staple moving forward in Justin Steele

It’s been a remarkable run from the former fifth-round pick out of George County High School – but he’s hoping it’s just the beginning of something special. Of course, it wasn’t that long ago we all fell in love with another Cubs left-hander in gritty veteran Jon Lester. The three-time World Series champion’s former personal catcher Willson Contreras was singing Steele’s praises earlier this week – high praise for a guy who’s in just his second big league season.

"“He has what it takes to be one of those elite starters at some point,”  Conteras told MLB.com. “With gaining more experience, pitching more, staying healthy, I think he’s going to be one of those elite pitchers.”"

With just about six weeks left in the 2022 season, the Cubs will no doubt be keeping an eye on both Steele and Keegan Thompson, monitoring workloads and making sure both guys finish the year healthy and ready to play key roles next season. If Chicago wants to return to contention in 2023, they’ll need their young arms at 100 percent.

Steele has been nails all year at Wrigley, throwing up a 3.03 ERA in 13 starts, but what really stands out is the fact he’s allowed just seven home runs all year. He could definitely stand to cut back on the walks (he ranks in the bottom quarter of the league in that measure) – but he’s managed to limit the damage and keep the Cubs in almost every one of his starts.

"“I feel like I say this every one of his starts,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “He just keeps getting better, right? There’s learning moments — things he’s worked through. We talked through one inning that he threw up a zero, but I think there was some growth in there that we talked about and some areas that he can continue to improve on."

Looking ahead at a potential 2023 Cubs rotation

Obviously, you wish the results as far as the standings were more favorable for Chicago, but there have been some key wins for the organization this year, especially when it comes to pitching depth.

The front office continued to add to the farm system via trades and the draft, while the emergence of a handful of guys on the big league roster helped clarify what next year’s staff could look like. Steele is a lock to return to the rotation and veterans Kyle Hendricks and Marcus Stroman fall in the same category.

Chicago could bring back Drew Smyly to round out the rotation and provide some depth, or even opt to keep Thompson in the mix – although a move back to the swingman role he occupied early in the season is definitely still in the cards, as well. Adrian Sampson has been a pleasant surprise – and top pitching prospect Caleb Kilian will surely look to crack the team out of camp next spring.

Next. Cubs are 'all-in' on arms this time around. dark

If Jed Hoyer goes out and lands himself an ace in free agency, the Cubs – with Steele in tow – could be ready to ride a strong rotation back to October next season.