Dylan Cease’s season will be all about its finish

But nobody should stop him from throwing down in the spring

Dylan Cease entered the year with some of his prospect stock diminished. It wasn’t anything he did, but more what he hadn’t yet done. Namely, he had yet to pitch 100 innings in any of his three pro seasons.

He had a valid excuse, undergoing Tommy John surgery after he was drafted by the Cubs in the sixth round back in 2014. But his age-21 season ended with him getting scratched from starts in low-A due to shoulder fatigue, so it made sense to make him re-validate some of his top-100 membership cards.

He’s building a strong foundation in this regard. Connor McKnight had singled him out in the latest episode of the Sox Machine Podcast, wasting no time when Josh asked him about the one player who had been undercovered. Starting at the 21:35 mark:

Dylan Cease. Dylan Cease. Dylan Cease. Dylan Cease. I feel like the “Chappelle Show” sketch — Dylan, Dylan, Dylan, Dylan and Dylan. Josh, I had not had a chance to see Dylan Cease pitch. Last season, working, I looked at a little bit of  tape, and that’s all well and good, but you know how those MiLB cameras can get fuzzy and you’re looking through a screen and all that.

Man, that’s some serious stuff. I was talking with some folks in the White Sox scouting department and video department about his breaking ball and what it does and how he throws it, and the fastball and where he locates it. I was taken aback by the stuff he has. I have no idea if that’s a body that can hold up to a starting rotation. I have no clue. But my God is the stuff rotation-worthy. It is a top-tier kind of arsenal. I was shocked. I was really impressed by what he’s able to throw.

Cease lived up to that billing in his first spring start against Oakland on Monday. He threw two scoreless innings against Oakland’s everyday lineup, fanning four while allowing a hit and two walks. He struck out the side — Dustin Fowler, Khris Davis and Matt Olson — in the first, then Bruce Maxwell in the second.

The game wasn’t broadcast, but the White Sox have video behind home plate, and you could see how hitters reacted to his stuff.

Cease recorded his first two strikeouts with the fastball, and the other two with the curve, including a big breaker that locked up Olson. He’s now up to 3⅓ scoreless innings over his first two spring outings, and he’s encouraged by the development.

“I just wanted to be relaxed. Relaxed with my body and attack and not over think it,” the 22-year-old said. “I felt very relaxed out there. Felt like I could have kept going, which is always a good sign.”

Cease’s profile confounds the prospect rankers. He fell off every top-100 list save MLB.com’s … where he was No. 61. That disparity is probably more indicative of his current state than some kind of consensus low-90s ranking. The majority vote says he’s outside the top 100, which reflects his body of work, while the MLB list tells you what he could be if he can get through an entire season without restrictions.

That’s basically what Keith Law said about Cease:

Dylan Cease was a top-100 prospect while in the Cubs’ system but saw his stuff fall off enough last year, his first time throwing more than 50 innings in a pro season, to bump his projection down a full grade or so. He has hit triple-digit velocity in the past but pitches more at 95-98 mph, with an above-average curveball and average mid-80s changeup. His fastball is very straight, and his command of all three pitches is still grade 40. However, he has barely pitched at all as a pro — since Tommy John surgery in 2014, he has thrown 162 total innings, more than half of that last year — and there might be a lot more growth here, given his lack of experience.

Given that endurance — both in-season and in-start — is the biggest question he faces in 2018, there probably won’t be many immediate corrections to his status no matter how he comes out of the gate. If he’s freezing MLB hitters with his curveball in the desert, he shouldn’t have a problem posting preposterous peripherals at Winston-Salem.

The issue is whether he can do so while pitching every fifth day, and pitching beyond the fifth inning. So while he might generate some early excitement, it’s going to take a good five months to figure out what role he might play in this White Sox rebuild.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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Patrick Nolan

Good piece. I think we’re seeing a lot of what Cease would be capable of in short bursts…it seems very likely we have at least a pretty damn good reliever here. We’ll see if he can piece things together over a starter’s workload.

Soxfan2

Agreed. Perhaps a Chris Devenski type role will be the best usage of him in the Major leagues. Throw him 2-3 innings multiple times per week. 

Trooper Galactus

I don’t know why a guy who lacks the durability to be a starting pitcher throwing five or six innings every fifth day would be able to handle throwing 2+ innings three times a week. That’s arguably even more stressful on an arm over the course of a season.

Soxfan2

Yeah I over exaggerated. In 2016, Devenski threw 108 innings, which averaged to about 4.5 innings a week. So Cease would throw around that much give or take. 

Trooper Galactus

It’s not just the innings, but the lack of rest from what are somewhat extended outings. We’re talking a lot of warm-up pitches before he appears as well as in between innings, and not a lot of recovery time between extended relief outings. That just strikes me as a good way to mess up a guy who already has questionable durability.

PauliePaulie

I see David Robertson with 4 extra ticks on his Fastball in his future. My dream 2020 Burdi, Cease, Lopez, Fulmer, Stephens ‘Pen shaping up nicely.

Reindeer Games

Your “dream” pen probably shouldn’t include multiple guys the organization is still hoping on being starters.

asinwreck

The optimist in me sees a prospect whose ailments were a result of needing his body to mature and is now on the brink of harnesses his talents. That last year was his high in innings means this year will either show the optimism warranted or crushed in a wave of Burgerian despair.

joewho112

Until about halfway through the article, i thought you were talking about Dylan Covey and was totally baffled. Turns out I am

Spoiler
dumb

knoxfire30

MLB added 5 off days, teams routinely carry 12-13 arms now, some teams even implement a near 6 man rotation. Cease is going to benefit from all of this. Give me the lightning stuff for 5 innings and we are all good.

johnnyg83

Is Winston Salem age 21 appropriate? Asked another way, could it buy beer if/when it was a human?

mikeyb

Looks like the average player in the Carolina League last year was about 22.5 years old.

https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/league.cgi?id=c9e7dd44

tommytwonines

He’s looking good this spring, but I think the Sox could have gotten Candelerio instead of Cease in the Quintana deal. An mlb-ready third baseman with good potential and years of control would look nice right now. I’d go needed position player over injury-riddled phenom in this case. 

Trooper Galactus

We’ll see, but Cease does appear to have the higher ceiling, and the White Sox have a better history with developing pitchers than position players. Besides, they need to find a dozen pitchers for future rosters and only one third baseman.

tommytwonines

And they are going to pay a ton for that third baseman, which saps funds for everything else. 

tommytwonines

Ha!  Negative hit. No need to be unspecific with generalities like Trooper’s. To be clear – ten years from now, I say Candelario has the better career. This is the minority opinion based on the trade and rankings, but I’ll stand by it. 

PauliePaulie

Or they could trade for that 3B, or draft one, or sign a vet to a shorter term less prohibitive contract. Re: Candelario- You don’t know that he was available. And I certainly wouldn’t have walked away from Eloy if he wasn’t. Not worth inventing gripes.

tommytwonines

Sox recent history signing vets/free agents – lousy.  Sox drafting position players – even worse. Sox trading for a third baseman – that’s what probably IMO could have been done in the Quintana trade. 

tommytwonines

And re: Candelario not being available – they traded him a couple weeks later!  He was blocked by Bryant and Rizzo. And the Cubs have few promising pitchers in their system – I think Cease was a much bigger trade chip. 

PauliePaulie

Didn’t think I had to specifically type available “in that trade” Good talk, Russ.

tommytwonines

No problem, PP. 

Trooper Galactus

Candelario could have the better career and I still won’t be looking back thinking the White Sox made a bad decision in hindsight. There’s obviously a lot to like about Cease, and better to spend a lot of money getting a third baseman than trying to fill out a rotation.

PauliePaulie

minorleagueball has a write-up on my favorite draft lefty, Matthew Liberatore

lil jimmy

As things stand today, Liberatore would not be a reach at #4. I have him in my top 5, as Slyder and I talked about last week.

Steve Gordon

If reports he hit 97 are true, he would have to be considered 1.1

Eagle Bones

Just a preference thing I guess, but I’d be kind of bummed if they end up with a HS arm. Just too much risk there for my liking. Would prefer a position player, but I could live with a college arm. Seems like a lot of interesting options that will be available from those bins.

PauliePaulie

Currently #2 for me. Have to see how the high school infielders (Turang, DeSedas, Gorman) separate themselves going forward.

Right Size Wrong Shape

I kind of have my heart set on a toolsy shortstop this time.