Hayden Wesneski was grabbing his golf clubs at PNC Field, the home of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, when his phone rang on Aug. 1.
It was Kevin Reese, the New York Yankees' vice president of player development. Reese called and told Wesneski he had been traded. But before Reese could finish his sentence, Wesneski began hoping that his new team would be the Chicago Cubs.
“They have a great, historic franchise and they like to win and they really care about it,” Wesneski said.
Wesneski got what he was hoping for. The right-handed pitcher, one of the top projects in the Yankees system, was shipped off to the Cubs as part of the Scott Effross deal just one day before the Major League Baseball trade deadline. Wesneski was assigned to the Iowa Cubs, where he’ll continue his rise to the major leagues.
“I’m excited for it, to be honest with you,” Wesneski said. “The Yankee system, they were very kind to me. To be in another organization like this, I can’t complain.”
The Cubs seem like a perfect fit on multiple levels for the 24-year-old who was selected in the sixth round of the 2019 draft by the Yankees. Wesneski credits a lot of his recent success to Daniel Moskos, the assistant pitching coach for the Chicago Cubs.
Moskos was previously a minor league coach in the Yankees system before coming to the Cubs. When the 2020 Minor League Baseball season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he helped Wesneski add a couple miles per hour to his fastball. Moskos encouraged Wesneski to use his backside more when throwing. He also had Wesneski use weighted ball workouts as the two touched base remotely.
Moskos was Wesneski’s pitching coach in Double-A with the Somerset Patriots in 2021. Moskos taught Wesneski how to read hitters and decide on pitch sequencing. He also encouraged the right-hander to throw his slider more. Moskos noticed Wesneski sometimes bailed on the pitch early if it wasn’t competitive the first time he threw it.
Wesneski had a tendency to get ahead of hitters with a first-pitch four-seam fastball and then follow it up with a two-seamer that routinely got hit hard. Moskos noticed the two-seamer was a couple of miles per hour slower than the four-seamer and sped up the bat of opposing hitters. He also got Wesneski to play his cutter and changeup off each other more.
“My stuff has always been there,” Wesneski said. “My mechanics were fine. It’s just that I was struggling to get outs and I was giving up weak hits and walking guys and I would get ahead and I would struggle to put them away.”
Thanks to Moskos, that all started to change. Wesneski went 11-6 with a 3.25 ERA and 1.12 WHIP with 151 strikeouts over 130.1 innings at three different levels in 2021. He reached Triple-A for the first time in his career, using all the lessons he learned from Moskos. Wesneski was hoping to work with Moskos more but then the coach took a job with the Cubs.
“When he said that he was going with the Cubs, I was a little disappointed,” Wesneski said. “To be reunited with him, I’m excited about it.”
So are the Cubs, who watched Wesneski continue to make strides this year when he went 6-7 with a 3.51 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 89.2 innings in Triple-A with the RailRiders. That type of success made him a prime trade target for the Yankees, who were looking to bolster their roster before the trade deadline. Wesneski and his teammates knew it.
“We were hearing all the rumors about anything from Juan Soto to Luis Castillo,” Wesneski said. “You name it. There’s jokes in the locker room about it. There’s talks about it. You read stuff. It's just crazy.”
When Wesneski found out he was being dealt, he grabbed his clubs and headed to a local golf course for some peace and quiet. He's now the No. 8 prospect in the Cubs organization by MLB Pipeline and the third-best pitching prospect.
And it's right where he wants to be.
“I really wanted to go to the Cubs,” he said. “It’s funny how it worked out.”
Tommy Birch, the Register's sports enterprise and features reporter, has been working at the newspaper since 2008. He's the 2018 and 2020 Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8468. Follow him on Twitter @TommyBirch.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Cubs pitcher Hayden Wesneski has earned prized prospect status