After 2 years of rehab and TLC, Cubs to ‘unleash’ 100-mph Cease

MESA, Ariz. — A year ago, Cubs scouting and player development boss Jason McLeod called him a lottery ticket.

Seven weeks ago, McLeod called him “unlike anyone that we’ve had in our system since we’ve been here.”

Right-hander Dylan Cease is a mythical creature when it comes to the Cubs’ farm system.

The Cubs have yet to draft and develop a big-league starting pitcher since Theo Epstein’s crew took over more than five years ago — much less a frontline-quality power pitcher like Cease appears to be.

Dylan Cease at practice this week, the scar on his right elbow from 2014 Tommy John surgery as a high school senior. (Photo: John Antonoff)

But that might be about to change as Cease prepares his 100-mph fastball and power curve for their first full-season assignment in the Cubs’ system.

He’ll likely open at Class A South Bend after two years of rehab work since undergoing Tommy John surgery as a high school senior.

“He’s absolutely one of the more exciting prospects that we have in our organization,” McLeod said during the Cubs Convention in January, “which is so fun to say in Year 5 that we’re talking about a pitcher as one of the most exciting players in our organization.”

Cease, 21, a broad-shouldered 6-2 kid with a mature-for-his-age demeanor, is quick to say the Cubs have more pitching talent in the system than many might believe.

But he also knows what evaluators are saying about him, whether it’s the media, the various prospect rankings or McLeod. He’s the first pitcher in the organization the last five years who’s talked about with the same kind of reverence as the Kris Bryants and Kyle Schwarbers from those vaunted hitting classes.

“I feel really excited and grateful that people think I could turn into that,” he said. “That’s what I’m working for. I want to give them everything I’ve got.

“It just makes me want to do the extra little stuff to get there. That would be incredible, a dream come true.”

Cease, a first-round talent drafted in the sixth round in 2014 because of the surgery, has a 2.36 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 68‰ professional innings.

He had a 2.22 ERA with 66 strikeouts in 44‰ innings at short-season Class A Eugene last season.

“He’s built up now,” farm director Jaron Madison said, adding that with Cease’s good health this spring, “you take the leash off.”

Cease said he doesn’t look too far ahead and doesn’t care where he starts or finishes this season within the organization.

“I would love to make every one of my starts; that would be a big goal of mine,” he said of what would translate to 20 or so starts and reaching 100 innings. “I would like to be locked in and focused and intense for every one of my starts, too.

“If I really want to make it to the next level, I can’t just rely on throwing hard. I’ve got to be a complete pitcher.”

It wouldn’t take much for Cease to notice what his development might mean to a championship team in the third year of a contending window.

The Cactus League debuts the last two days by Jake Arrieta and John Lackey were reminders that both are free agents next fall. And a team that won the World Series last year without a pitcher drafted and developed by the organization will probably do it the same way if it repeats.

The Cubs have built a successful staff from the outside, and in that continuing process, they’re still looking to add more young, controllable quality starters.

What would adding a certain kid with a golden, surgically repaired arm mean? And when could that happen?

“All that stuff is kind of background noise and out of my control,” Cease said. “I’m more focused on the little things I have to do every day to get up there and write my own story and be a part of something.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.
Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com


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