Chicago Cubs News: The fifth starter may be a surprise for fans

Drew Smyly reportedly developed some new tricks for his arsenal, giving him a decent shot of making the starting rotation

Colorado Rockies v Chicago Cubs
Colorado Rockies v Chicago Cubs / Matt Dirksen/GettyImages

The last spot in the Chicago Cubs starting rotation will be determined during Spring Training this year, but veteran southpaw Drew Smyly is looking like the most plausible candidate.

A new report from the Chicago Tribune's Meghan Montemurro details a busy offseason where Smyly developed two new pitches to add to his repertoire. Smyly heavily relied on his curveball and sinker combo, which often wasn't enough to get him out of tough jams. This combined with Smyly's relatively low velocity landed the 34-year-old a demotion to the bullpen last year, where many thought he would stay in 2024 considering the team hasn't signed a lefty reliever.

But Smyly did everything he could to reinvent himself this offseason according to Montemurro's piece. After getting a recommendation from former teammate Alex Cobb, Smyly spent much of the winter at a private training facility called Driveline Baseball. It's here where Smyly apparently worked on adding a splitter to his pitch mix, which could significantly improve his game and bridge the gap between his other pitches.

Driveline also helped Smyly add a slider, which he thinks will come in handy against left-handed hitters. In 2023, lefties crushed Smyly with a .338 batting average over 32 innings pitched so he could certainly use all the help he can get against them.

If these pitches can turn Smyly's game around, he may win the fifth starter job and that would be a good thing. Manager Craig Counsell has alluded to delaying the final starting rotation decisions until late in Spring Training, and Smyly's competition includes Hayden Wesneski, Javier Assad, and Jordan Wicks. Spring Training games will determine the defined roles, but if Smyly makes the rotation then Assad will likely be the long-reliver while Wicks and Wesneski could begin the season in Triple-A. This scenario makes sense from a roster standpoint, as it will give the Cubs a deeper pool of depth starters to fill in for injuries or poor performance.

Below is the projected starting rotation with Smyly

1. Justin Steele LHP

2. Jameson Taillon RHP

3. Shota Imanaga LHP

4. Kyle Hendricks RHP

5. Drew Smyly LHP

Depth: Javier Assad, Jordan Wicks, Hayden Wesneski, Cade Horton, Ben Brown

Even if Smyly begins the season in the bullpen, his new pitches should help him navigate sticky situations. Smyly was successful as a reliever last year with a 2.51 ERA in 28.2 innings pitched and he is poised to bring value to the table wherever he ends up.

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