Poised but patient: White Sox prospect Dylan Cease on his path to the majors
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INDIANAPOLIS — Let’s skip the formalities, OK?
‘‘I definitely feel like I could compete in the major leagues right now,’’ White Sox pitching prospect Dylan Cease said.
Which is not to suggest the flame-throwing 23-year-old right-hander is waiting impatiently to be called up to ‘‘The Show.’’ His scoreless five-inning outing here Sunday — easy-breezy work on a cold, wet, miserable afternoon — was only his second start with Class AAA Charlotte.
So far, so good: Cease is 2-0 with nine strikeouts, one walk and an ERA full of zeros in 10 innings with the Knights.
‘‘But [a call-up] is really not something I focus on at all,’’ he said. ‘‘The more I work on my pitches and execute what I’m doing, the more good things will happen. I try not to get ahead of myself and stay in the process.’’
The process involves fun little things such as trying to get his already-dangerous slider and curveball simply to drop off the face of the earth and fine-tuning the shape his changeup so it becomes a perfectly cruel complement to his overpowering fastball.
In short, Cease is working on becoming a world-beater. Think the Sox could use one of those?
‘‘He’s got good stuff, he can command four pitches and he’s just a poised individual, so those are pretty good ingredients for success at any level,’’ Sox director of player personnel Chris Getz said.
As Cease rockets toward the big leagues, it becomes ever harder to believe what happened to him in the aftermath of his trade — along with Eloy Jimenez and two other Cubs prospects — to the Sox for left-hander Jose Quintana in July 2017. Cease reported to Class A Kannapolis and lost all eight of his decisions there the rest of that season.
In fairness, he struggled with the effects of an ankle injury all that season. His ERA in Kannapolis was 3.89, a figure that doesn’t seem to align with an 0-8 record at all. This is not the type of pitcher, though, who searches for excuses.
‘‘I feel like a completely different person and pitcher since back then,’’ Cease said.
In 2018, Cease was a combined 12-2 with a 2.40 ERA, 160 strikeouts and only 50 walks at Class A Winston-Salem and Class AA Birmingham. In doing so, he established himself as a Michael Kopech-level prospect. Kopech — recovering from Tommy John surgery — might have beaten Cease to the big leagues, but whose future are Sox fans more prepared to bet on?
There’s a pretty good chance it’s the guy who wore No. 25 on Sunday — the sides of his head shaved, scruffy beard and mustache coming in — and blew away the first batter he faced with a 99 mph heater.
Did we mention the weather was downright awful? If the native of suburban Atlanta spends much time in Chicago, he’ll encounter such conditions often in April.
‘‘If you can’t handle a little adversity, you shouldn’t be out there competing,’’ he said.
As Tiger Woods’ triumphant final round at the Masters blared on the press-box TV at the ballpark, it was too tempting not to juxtapose a monstrous achievement by a 43-year-old all-time great with the potentially brilliant — but still uncertain — future of a tremendously gifted athlete 20 years younger.
Sometimes these things work out, sometimes they don’t.
But as Woods teed off on the 18th hole at Augusta National, Cease unleashed a 98 mph fastball to an overmatched Indians batter. As Woods sized up his winning two-putt on the 18th, Cease was working back from a 3-0 count to record his final strikeout of the day.
Such a cool customer, he is. No, not Woods. Well, yes, Woods. But also Cease.
‘‘I think the more stoic you can be, the better,’’ he said.
Totally jumping the gun here, but at what point will it be reasonable to suggest the Sox might have fleeced the Cubs in the Quintana trade? No doubt, the Cubs got the starter they needed in 2017 to help get them over the National League Central hump. Also true: Quintana still has some ace in his left arm when he’s at his sharpest.
Yet how thrilled would Cubs fans be to have their former Nos. 1 and 2 prospects back in the fold?
Cease was charting pitches in the dugout here Friday when Jimenez belted the first two home runs of his career. Cease returned to the visitors’ clubhouse to find a text from his father, letting him know what the rookie slugger had done.
‘‘I went on Twitter and checked it out,’’ Cease said. ‘‘It’s just, like, an effortless swing, and all of a sudden it’s 430 [feet]. He’s fun to watch.’’
Jimenez isn’t the only one who’s fun to watch. Some night before too long at Guaranteed Rate Field — on a lovely summer night, perhaps — Cease will get his own shot to entertain a big-league audience. It’s nice to think that, for all involved, it will be worth the wait.