GLENDALE, Ariz. — If you think of right-hander Dylan Cease as ‘‘the other guy’’ the White Sox received from the Cubs in the Jose Quintana trade, don’t worry. There’s no offense taken.
‘‘I’m pretty close with [top outfield prospect] Eloy [Jimenez], so I’m happy for him,’’ said Cease, 22, the first player Jimenez hugged in the Sox’ clubhouse when he arrived in camp a couple of weeks ago. ‘‘I mean, I didn’t really think about that.’’
Polite, respectful and arriving from the Cubs with a lofty status of his own, Cease doesn’t come off as one who’d be insulted by second billing in any context. Besides, he was considered by some to be the Cubs’ best pitching prospect when the deal, which also brought lower-level prospects Matt Rose and Bryant Flete to the Sox, was made July 13.
And with Jimenez sidelined by a sore knee, it’s Cease who has made the bigger splash this spring with two scoreless outings. Ranked as high as 47th by Baseball Prospectus, Cease pitched with poise and big-league stuff in his first Cactus League start Monday, demonstrating why the Sox project him as a front-of-the-rotation starter.
‘‘He’s a smart kid; I love his temperament,’’ Sox director player of development Chris Getz said. ‘‘When he gets on the mound, he’s fearless.’’
Cease said he felt relaxed as he allowed one hit, struck out four and walked two in two innings against the Athletics. He showed an easy-looking 95 to 98 mph fastball and a sharp curve and mixed in a developing changeup and slider.
‘‘It was good, definitely better than the last one,’’ Cease said, comparing the outing to his 1„ innings of scoreless relief last Tuesday against the Rangers. ‘‘I was able to spin stuff and throw it in there for strikes. I can still have better command and get ahead more, so there is stuff to learn from it.’’
(Watch Cease strike out Khris Davis on three pitches. He struck out the side in the first inning.)
Cease prefers starting, but he knows there is a debate about whether his fastball — which has topped 100 mph — and secondary pitches will play better in the rotation or out of the bullpen.
‘‘I don’t put too much stock in that,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s all a side story. I’m just trying to execute my pitches to the best of my ability, and wherever that leads me, it will lead me.’’
Cease had Tommy John surgery in high school, which probably cost him being a first-round draft pick in 2014. The Cubs drafted him in the sixth round but paid him well more than slot value ($1.5 million), but health roadblocks, including ankle and shoulder issues in 2017, have limited his workloads. His combined 92 1/3 innings last season between the Cubs’ and Sox’ low-level Class A teams were a personal high, so he has to prove he has the stamina to be a starter.
When he has pitched, he has been good (217 strikeouts, 2.89 ERA in 162 innings in rookie ball and Class A). He came to camp feeling strong.
‘‘I feel great,’’ Cease said after his outing against the A’s. ‘‘I feel like I could have kept going, which is always a good sign.’’
Getz said Cease’s delivery holds up as a starter.
‘‘I think he’s a starter,’’ Getz said. ‘‘But that said, with guys as talented as him, you have options. He has an electric fastball, a pretty good breaking ball and a pretty good changeup, too, which we’re going to use more this year for his development.’’
Cease figures to open the season at high-Class A Winston Salem and, if he progresses, might be in a Sox uniform by late 2019.
‘‘He was around the 100 [innings] mark [last season], so we’re going to incrementally go over that mark if his health holds up,’’ Getz said. ‘‘And he has come in physically looking very strong. He looks like a different guy than he did last year. He’s just maturing.’’
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