Right-hander Dylan Cease impressed in his first major league spring training, looked dominant at times in Cactus League games and hasn’t missed a beat between high Class A Winston-Salem and Class AA Birmingham.
He’s the next big up-and-coming pitcher in the White Sox’ farm system behind Michael Kopech.
Acquired with Eloy Jimenez and two other prospects from the Cubs in the Jose Quintana trade last year, Cease earned a place in the Futures Game during All-Star Week and was named the Sox’ minor league pitcher of the month for July.
In his first outing of August on Saturday, Cease had his third consecutive start without allowing a run, pitching six scoreless innings of one-hit ball with nine strikeouts and no walks for the Barons against Mobile. He’s 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA and 51 strikeouts in his last six starts covering 36 innings.
In short, the 2018 season could not be going better for the No. 44 prospect (16th among pitchers) per MLB Pipeline.
“I feel if I was up there right now, I could definitely compete,’’ Cease said. “But I’m not worried about it right now. I’m just trying to see what I can do to be the best player I can be.’’
Cease certainly has the stuff with an upper-90s fastball and three good secondary pitches, and Birmingham pitching coach Rich Dotson said Cease’s slider has emerged as his second-best pitch. A new grip on his curve has made that one better, Cease said, and the changeup has also been good. All of the components are there to envision Cease being part of the Sox’ starting rotation in the future.
“It’s the talent,” Dotson said. “He has great stuff. Great fastball. Got good ride to it. Locating it pretty well. And right now, he’s working on his secondary pitches.
“He’s even-keeled and goes about his business in a real good way. Goes out there prepared to pitch a game. He has an even temperament, not really up or down. He listens well and he shows a focus in what he’s trying to accomplish.’’
A sixth-round Cubs draft choice in 2014, Cease had Tommy John surgery that same year, which delayed his jumping-off point. Before this season, he hadn’t pitched more than the 93 innings he put in last year. At 112⅓ innings so far in 2018, Cease’s innings will be monitored down the stretch, said Chris Getz, the Sox’ director of player development.
Dotson said Cease continues to look strong, a good sign for a player whose health issues are looking like a thing of the past.
“I think it’s just the weight room, continuing to do my throwing program and make sure I get enough recovery and sleep and eating good,’’ Cease said. “I’ve already [thrown] more than I’ve thrown previously, so we’ll have to see how everything holds up this last month.’’
It’s reasonable to assume that Cease’s 2019 debut, just one of many that will be eagerly anticipated as the farm system begins turning prospects into major leaguers, will be at Class AAA Charlotte. As the Sox are showing with Kopech, they will be patient, although Cease (140 strikeouts, 41 walks) has a better handle on throwing consistent strikes.
“We can plan it but when you get [to the majors] it’s a whole different game and you’re going to learn from what you learn up there, too,’’ Dotson said. “Sometimes you have to face the best to get to a different level. Guys usually don’t go up and dominate.’’
Cease seemingly has the right mindset for when it’s time to pitch at the highest level.
“As young as he is, he has a good feel for how he will attack, what he has and how he will use it,’’ manager Rick Renteria told reporters Sunday. “His stuff’s good but a lot of it is his demeanor. He has a quiet confidence about him, you can see it when he gets on the mound. He knows what he wants to do.”