Cubs: Adrian Sampson is forcing his way into the conversation

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

As the 2022 regular season begins to wind down, it’s easy for fans of a team like the Cubs to start casting their gaze to next spring, when the team hopes to be far more competitive than they’ve been this time around.

We know that, for that to happen, the pitching staff will have to keep taking steps forward, while also avoiding the laundry list of injuries that have plagued Chicago’s arms this year. The days of Kyle Hendricks leading the rotation are in the past, but guys like Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele have really left their mark and figure to be key staples moving forward.

While Steele, in particular, has garnered plenty of praise, one guy who’s not getting nearly the same amount of love is 30-year-old right-hander Adrian Sampson.

It’s been a strange year for the former fifth-round pick. He first signed with the Cubs back in May 2021, then re-signed with the club last offseason as a free agent. Seattle picked him up after Chicago placed him on waivers, only to wind up back on the open market a couple weeks later when he – you guessed it – came back to the North Side once more.

Since then, he’s proven to be a valuable depth piece for David Ross. With injuries sidelining Hendricks, Wade Miley and Drew Smyly at various points of the year (with the former pair still sidelined) – the righty has settled into a nice groove in the Cubs rotation, finally earning his first win of the year on Thursday in Baltimore.

"“Wins will come no matter what,” Sampson told after the game. “My job is to keep our guys in the game, and then eventually we will score some runs, which we did today.”"

On the year, Sampson carries a 3.51 ERA and 3.46 FIP – due largely to his ability to limit hard contact. He ranks in the 89th percentile in average exit velocity, 90th in hard hit rate and 80th in barrel percentage. He’s overcome a below-average strikeout rate by limiting walks and hard-hit balls, turning in a really nice stretch here for the club.

Has Adrian Sampson done enough to earn a roster spot on the 2023 Cubs?

So what does this mean for his role on this team heading into 2023? He’ll likely get a chance to break camp in the bullpen, but if Chicago wants to seriously contend again next year, I have trouble believing they’d be comfortable giving him a solid spot in the rotation.

Now, seeing him slot into the mix as a swingman makes a ton of sense, especially when you consider he’s got three options remaining – as well as a couple of cost-controlled years remaining. Having a guy you can turn to who can eat up a few innings when things go wrong for a starter can be the difference between having an effective, well-rested relief corps and an island of bange-up, over-worked misfit toys.

Next. Justin Steele's emergence has been a huge win for the Cubs. dark

You can bet Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins will be watching to see how Sampson closes out the year. But to this point, he’s been a pleasant – and very welcome – surprise here in 2022.