I was at BB&T Ballpark to catch Dylan Cease’s second start of 2018. What follows is a report based on my viewing, videos, chatting with scouts and coaches, and interviewing the pitcher himself post-game. It was an impressive start for the 2nd or 3rd best pitching prospect in the White Sox system.
Cease had Tommy John surgery as a prep player, reducing his draft stock, but the Cubs selected him in the 6th round in 2014 anyway and paid him a whopping $1.5 million bonus more in line with a late 1st or early 2nd rounder. The Cubs brought him up to speed slowly, with Dylan throwing just 24 innings in 2015 and 44.2 in 2016. 2017 saw the right-hander reach full season ball for the first time and pitched a little over fifty innings in 13 starts before he was traded to the White Sox in the Quintana-Jimenez deal. He finished that year with Kannapolis (A), making 9 more starts, putting him at a little over 90 innings. Ranked as the 10th overall prospect in the White Sox system on our list, and #61 in MLB per Pipeline, Cease opens his age 22 season with High-A Winston-Salem.
Mechanical / Physical
For a prep draft pick with just ~170 pro innings under his belt, I was impressed with how clean Cease’s mechanics are. Very little funk, and he’s definitely a student of the Sox-favored Tall and Fall School. There is sometimes some arm bounce on the follow-through, but only occasionally and it isn’t pronounced. Arm angle is typical three quarter. Draw-back is slow and he does explode forward, but without getting whippy. His listed 6'2", 190 pounds seems about right, and it's on an athletic frame.
Here’s an open side video of his delivery from the wind-up (and if you watch to the end, a mild collision with third baseman Ti’Quan Forbes – both were OK):
And here’s an open side pitch from the stretch:
I did get a chance to ask Dylan about his slow ramp-up in workload, and whether or not this would be the year he could push up to a typical full season starter's innings. Here was his response:
I don’t know if they have a pitch limit on me. I’m sure they have an innings plan for me. I know they’re not going to let me throw more than a hundred or whatever pitches. But I’m not too worried about that anyway. I’m just going to go out and pitch as much as they let me.
The Game I Saw
In this April 13th game, Cease threw six innings of shutout ball on 79 pitches, 51 of which were strikes. He allowed a pair of walks, but also only a pair of hits, and struck out five. It was a statistically impressive outing and, in this case, the line pretty much matched the stuff. The two hits were a bunt and a soft liner.
The stuff was particularly strong in the first four frames. His 4-seam fastball was sitting mostly 96-98, touching 99 at least once. He was blowing it by hitters with relative ease most of the time, and it had some life. The movement was mostly fade (in to RHB, away to LHB). He threw the heater probably 80% of the time in those first four innings. Another pleasant surprise is how well he seemed to command it, seemingly working the edges of the plate effectively and not forcing the catcher to move much.
When he did mix in off-speeds, it was mostly change-ups and sliders at first. The former is generally written up by scouting types as maybe his 4th best pitch, but on this day I think it may have been more effective than anything other than the fastball. It doesn’t have a ton of movement but I saw no evidence of any arm-slowing or any other telegraphing factors. That deception combined with hitters keying on upper 90’s heat worked well.
Here's a video of Cease striking out highly-considered prospect Keston Hiura in a 9-pitch at bat that featured mostly fastballs (which Hiura was consistently late on) and a couple good-looking change-ups at 84 including the one that rang it up:
The slider has some nice two-plane break (though not consistently) and I could see it developing into something very good, but he buried it a lot and command didn’t seem great with it. You'll get to see a couple in a later video, when we get to the 6th.
The 5th inning was a transition, and command began to loosen a bit. But what also started in the 5th, and amplified in the 6th, were two factors. First, his pitch mixed changed: his curveball and two-seamer went from rare to regular use. The curve is the pitch scouts rave about most outside of his fastball, and it is a strong 12/6 offering that generated some knee buckling for hitters. The two-seamer comes in around the low 90’s but I only saw it a couple times so I can’t speak much to its character. I got just one on video, and oddly it was one of the hardest-hit balls of the night as Ryan Aguilar sliced a line drive to center field that was caught (the pitch was up a little) in the 6th:
Here’s Cease in the post-game interview talking about the change in pitch mix:
I was more fastball, with sliders and the change-up, those first few innings. Really I was just attacking with my fastball. They were late on it for the most part, so I didn’t want to speed up their bats. I was just trying to mix... I’ll use [2-seam fastball] to go in on righties, and sometimes to lefties just down. If I’ve got men on base and I want a double play. For the most part it was 4-seamers today, and I probably did mix more 2-seamers in towards the end. But every once in a while early I was mixing it in there too.
The other phenomenon was that his fastball velocity did start to go back a bit by the 6th. What was 96-98, T99, was now more 94-96, though even in that range it was effective. Worth noting also – the bottom of the fifth was a long time to sit for Cease as the Dash sent nine men to the plate and there was a pitching change. So it may not be fair to assume his velocity drop was “normal”. Here’s a final video, also from the 6th, where you can see a mix of the slightly slower fastball, a curve and a couple sliders, with less ideal location:
Whatever the reason for the 6th inning not showing as dominantly as the previous four or five, even the less dominant version of Cease was more than enough to get the job done.
Breakdown by Pitch
Here’s an overview of Cease’s stuff by pitch type:
- 4-seam Fastball mostly 96-98, touched 99, faded to 94-96 in last inning. Shows fade. Command was pretty good from what I could discern. This is a big fastball that I would give a plus grade.
- 2-seam Fastball low 90’s, has the drop you’re looking for.
- Slider ran 86-89 but mostly in lower end of that band, showing good two-plane break but lacked command and consistency.
- The vaunted curveball was a 74-78 mph, 12/6 hammer, and shows plus potential in my limited viewings. Hard to nail command when he didn't throw it all that often - he seemed to hit some targets and miss others.
- His change-up was generally 83 to 85, and while the break isn't special, he delivers it without much if any give-away and was able to throw it for strikes consistently. Worked well paired with fastball. In this game at least, it was probably his second best pitch.
Most of the above follows suit with the smattering of scouting reports you will see from other sites. The one exception may be that change of pace, which as noted earlier seemed pretty well advanced. The overall repertoire is quite impressive and it is no surprise Cease is a Top 100 MLB prospect by most accounts.
Status and Conclusion
Assuming Dylan Cease successfully climbs the innings ladder and is able to maintain health and stamina at a full-time starter's workload, I can see a mid-rotation starter without so much as a squint. Plus current fastball, curve and slider both showing potential for above average or maybe more, and a fairly mature change-up is a heck of an arsenal at his level and developmental stage. Athleticism, consistency in delivery and clean mechanics, with the added bonus of some strong intangibles, further stabilize the foundation. If I were to vote on a new White Sox Top 30 today, he'd certainly be higher than 10th. I would not be surprised to see Cease's name listed in the 3rd slot in the White Sox rotation around 2020.
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