It's too early to start worrying about Chicago Cubs starter Adrian Sampson
Only two starts into Spring Training, things are already looking dour for potential Chicago Cubs starter Adrian Sampson. After surprising fans with a strong performance in 2022, he was seen as the favorite within the organization to take the final spot in the rotation, even beating out the buzzy Hayden Wesneski. Now, doubt is already starting to creep in.
Tuesday marked another ugly outing for Sampson, who gave up three home runs, four hits, two walks, and six runs in only 2 2/3 innings. Worse, it's the second straight start where he's given up three home runs. Sampson's performance so far is in stark contrast to who he was last year. Across over 100 innings in 2022, he only gave up the long ball five times. Moreover, it's far from the best impression for someone trying to win that last rotation spot especially when his main competition Wesneski has looked stellar so far.
The poor showing is swaying many fans to already anoint Wesneski the obvious fifth starter and it's hard to argue. Spring Training comes with a load of caveats though. It's often where pitchers tinker with their repertoire and try new things before the games actually matter. Also, it's only 4 1/3 innings. By no means is it encouraging to see a potential rotation arm throwing batting practice to the Rangers, but incredibly small samples in games that ultimately don't count aren't the biggest worry.
Even if the concern is rising, it's too early to write off Sampson yet. This is the same pitcher that grinded his way to a 40-man roster spot with the Cubs after having to sign with the Lotte Giants to get his groove back. Furthermore, of all the people that are concerned, the pitcher himself isn't yet.
Sampson is using Cubs Spring Training to work out kinks in his repertoire
Sampson confirmed in an MLB.com video that part of his struggles can be attributed to working on creating more separation between his fastball and his sinker. By Statcast, the two pitches boast similar movement and only a 0.6 mph difference in velocity. The sinker, too, was easily Sampson's weakest pitch with the worst results and the worst expected outcomes with an xSLG of .523. In ironing out these two pitches, it's certainly likely there will be some bumps along the way.
It leaves some cautious optimism that he could be ready by the time Opening Day rolls around. There's always going to be some hesitation to believe in the breakout from last year, but he did more than enough to justify being in the spot he is. If this is indeed rust and experimentation, there's absolutely room for him to prove he's worthy of that final rotation spot.
Wesneski would still be my choice for the Cubs rotation and I don't think Sampson has a ton more wiggle room to struggle, but this race isn't over. Sampson still warrants watching over the next few starts. Don't be shocked if he still does enough across that time to sway the Cubs brass to pick him over the talented rookie.