Growing pains expected from a young, inexperienced Cubs rotation

From prospects settling into the big leagues to a former NPB standout making the jump to MLB, there will be a lot of learning on the job from Cubs starters this season.

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St. Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs / Chris Coduto/GettyImages

The Chicago Cubs are entering the 2024 season with a rotation that features several arms looking to settle into the Majors. This includes Shota Imanaga, who will make his MLB debut at Wrigley Field next week and Jordan Wicks who got a very brief taste of the Majors (34.2 innings) at the end of last year. These two will be crucial in a rotation along with the experienced arms of Justin Steele, Kyle Hendricks and, when he is healthy again, Jameson Taillon.

As with many young arms, Cubs will have a handful of growing pains

Imanaga is coming over from Japan and will not only need to make active adjustments to a new league but also new ballpark environments. Throughout his career, he has been able to rack up strikeouts with the use of command and movement. He has also been known to give up a fair share of home runs with his heavy fastball use. Adjusting his approach against MLB hitters will include some work and there will be rough patches while he works it out, especially on days at Wrigley with the wind howling out.

Wicks in a small sample size last year already showed what it's like for him to go through growing pains, while also showing potential. In his first four starts, he pitched to a 1.99 ERA (five runs in 22.2 innings), followed by two starts with six combined runs in 10.1 innings and ended with a rough one in Milwaukee giving up six runs in 1.2 innings. Wicks is a guy who can rack up strikeouts via commanding offspeed stuff, not overpowering velocity. He will adjust how he mixes things up throughout a season when teams get a better handle on how he pitches.

That brings us to fifth starter Javier Assad, who made his debut back in 2022, and has still just 147 innings under his belt. While Assad is a swingman covering for the injured Taillon, he will have the challenge of staying effective no matter what role he is in. Last year he pitched to a 3.05 ERA in 109.1 innings with a 4.29 FIP and 3.4 BB/9. He has been able to find ways to pitch to his defense and get outs so far, but as teams now have a better profile on him he will work on counter-adjusting as well.

This does not even factor in the potential of either Ben Brown or Cade Horton coming up at some point this year and being a part of the pitching mix. Even with the high-power arms they feature there will still be adjusting and learning that happens as they experience big-league life for the first time.

There is so much potential in the pitching the Cubs have throughout the organization. From Wicks to Horton. Growing pains are just a part of young pitchers, but the hope is the positives outweigh the negatives and kinks in the road. This is unlike the 2016 Cubs who had a rotation of all experienced veterans outside Hendricks, and even he had over 200 MLB innings under his belt by that season.

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