Young pitching will play a large role in determining just when the Cubs return to the postseason and one guy, in particular, is getting some recognition in MLB Pipeline's preseason rankings of left-handed pitching prospects in 2021 first-round pick Jordan Wicks.
Wicks checks in as the #6 left-handed pitching prospect in the game (one spot ahead of heralded Cardinals southpaw Matthew Liberatore, for what it's worth) - a promising sign for an organization that hasn't drafted and produced a top-of-the-line starting pitcher in some time.
Cubs look to have a reliable future starter in Jordan Wicks
Wicks turned in a respectable 2022 campaign between High-A South Bend and Double-A Tennessee, making 24 starts and working to a 3.80 ERA with an 11.5 K/9 mark. Even when he was drafted, he was regarded as one of the most polished pitchers of the class and that hasn't changed with a year-plus of pro ball under his belt.
MLB Pipeline still pegs him as a guy who's already drawing close to a big league debut, projecting him to take the ball for the Cubs the first time at some point during the 2023 campaign. Of course, young arms will be a constant storyline to watch this year, with Hayden Wesneski, Keegan Thompson, DJ Herz, Caleb Kilian, Ryan Jensen and others all hoping to pitch meaningful innings.
What role a lot of them play remains to be seen. I suspect Wesneski gets a long look in spring training for a spot in the rotation, while Thompson slides into the swingman role he excelled in last year. Kilian will need to prove he ironed out the mechanical issues that cut his stint with the big league team short in 2022 while Herz and Jensen could go either way, but bullpen roles seem likeliest, with a potential spot start thrown in there as needed.
Given the last competitive window was driven by position players, it's exciting to see the sheer quantity of Cubs pitching prospects starting to knock on the door. While Wicks might not be the flashiest of the bunch, he's shown consistency and effectiveness to this point and, if it translates at the game's highest level, he could be a rotation staple on the North Side for years to come.