It’s one of my favorite parts of the baseball season: that magical time before the All-Star break when we see pitching prospect debut after pitching prospect debut. Today, it was Chicago White Sox prospect Dylan Cease‘s turn to take the bump. Before I can breakdown how he did, let’s take a look at how he got there.
How We Got Here
|Organization||Overall Ranking||Amongst SP’s||In Organization|
In terms of his arsenal, Cease features a four-seamer, curveball, slider, and changeup. The four-seam grades as Cease’s best pitch, sits between 95 and 98 (but can hit the triple digits), and features some pretty good movement to it. Both breaking pitches also have a 60-grade ceiling, but Cease has been throwing the curve for longer and it tends to be more reliable. 12-6 in fashion, Cease’s Uncle Charlie sits in the mid- to high 70s and is capable of getting a lot of swings and misses. Cease’s mid- to high 80s slider has taken a bit of time for him to get used to—he only started throwing the pitch in Double-A—and while it can be his least consistent pitch it has the upside to be very legitimate. The mid- to low 80s changeup is Cease’s least-used pitch and arguably the one he has the most difficulty with.
The biggest concern regarding Cease coming into today’s game isn’t his ability to get whiffs, it’s his command.
|2017||White Sox (A)||41.2||10.3|
|2018||White Sox (A+)||71.2||9.7|
|2018||White Sox (AA)||52.1||10.9|
|2019||White Sox (AAA)||68.1||10.5|
Overall, he’s a high upside prospect with great breaking stuff but a tendency to be a bit wild. Let’s see how he does:
Something tells me that James McCann just wanted Cease to be get comfortable on his very first Major League pitch, so he calls for a four-seamer. Cease throws a 97 mph heater that ends up staying right over the heart of the plate, but Jacoby Jones gets under it for a fly out to center field.
Cease follows up that first fastball by ramping it up to 99 and missing high. This would begin a troubling trend for the 23-year-old.
He misses high again, this time high and tight, before getting the first called strike of his career on a 98 mph heater.
Christin Stewart fouls off another 98 mph fastball before grounding out on a four-seamer with a lot of late movement to it.
This was now five consecutive 98 mph four-seamers from Cease, who usually sits between 95 and 97, leading me to believe he’s got a lot of adrenaline pumping through him. That, of course, makes perfect sense—it is his MLB debut after all—but adrenaline added to a pitching prospect with command issues can be a troublesome combo. That said, Cease is now one out away from completing his first MLB inning unscathed.
He decides to pitch Castellanos backward as we see his curveball for the first time.
The pitch features some beautiful 12-6 drop and is generously called a strike by home plate umpire Bill Miller. Cease tries to get ahead 0-2 by dialing up to 99 mph on his fastball but once again misses high.
At this point, Yoan Moncada gets something in his eye, and there’s a lengthy delay. You may think that’s not a big deal, but put yourself in Cease’s shoes. You’re making your MLB debut, you’re in a 1-1 count with Castellanos, you’re one out away from having a clean inning, you’re throwing harder than ever, and now you have to wait five minutes while Moncada gets some out of his eyes. How does Cease respond?
His first triple-digit four-seamer of the day. Castellanos fouls it off, but Cease is ahead 1-2 and is a strike away from the second inning. At this point, Cease has thrown eight four-seamers and just one breaking pitch (the curve with which he started off the Castellanos at-bat). Castellanos has shown he can catch up to the triple-digit heat, so does Cease decide to go breaker or make Castellanos prove he can hit his fastball? He chooses the latter as he climbs to the top of the zone with a four-seamer that Castellanos lays off. Now at 2-2, McCann calls for what will be Cease’s first slider of the day.
The slider has some nice vertical drop to it and likely more horizontal movement than the camera angle would have you believe. While it’s by no means a terrible slider, it’s a little more outside than McCann wanted, and Castellanos does a good job of laying off. With the count full, McCann calls for another slider that Castellanos fouls off. At this point, Cease has a few options: throw another slider that he hopes will elicit a swing and miss, try to drop in another deuce inside because he’s been focusing outside for his past couple of pitches, or elevate a fastball. McCann calls for a four-seamer that he wants right where the sliders have been landing.
But Cease can’t execute, and he gives up the first walk of his career.
At this point, Cease has shown that he doesn’t have the best fastball command, so Brandon Dixon wants to wait him out to see if he can throw strikes.
The first pitch is a fastball that just touches the top of the zone for a strike. Unhappy with the call, Dixon decides to see if Cease can do it again, and the decision pays off as Cease misses outside of the zone with four consecutive fastballs and gives up his second walk of the day.
Seemingly aware of his inability to locate, Cease starts off Jeimer Candelario with a nice curve.
The pitch has some nice break to it, and Cease decides to go back to it. He gets ahead 0-2 before trying to throw a high fastball for a strike.
Unfortunately, it’s still not there. Candelario fouls off another slider before Cease misses again with a four-seamer, hits Candelario and loads the bases.
We’ve gone from Cease being one strike away from ending the inning to two consecutive walks and a hit by pitch. His confidence in his fastball is gone, and he’s going to have to rely on his breaking pitches to get out of this. While he gets ahead of Harold Castro with a first-pitch curveball, Castro takes the second curveball up the middle for a two-RBI single.
So much for relying on the breaking pitches. Cease gets behind Niko Goodrum with another errant four-seamer before working his way back into the count. He gets ahead 1-2 to Goodrum and is now eager to get into the dugout to regroup after having thrown 28 pitches. Unfortunately, the lack of four-seamer command bites him once more as he walks Goodrum to once again load the bases.
There’s a quick mound meeting, after which Cease immediately gets ahead of John Hicks with a four-seamer that, for the first time, finds the inside.
Cease follows that up with a slider that Hicks takes to center field for a fly out.
The first inning is over, and Cease is having some command issues. His four-seamer is pretty erratic, and when he is able to get it somewhat close to the top of the zone, the Tigers aren’t obliging him. He’s going to need to figure it out if he’s going to have success in the second.
Luckily for Cease, the White Sox were able to put a run on the board in the bottom of the first and give him some time to collect himself (though he would’ve had more if not for a base-running blunder by McCann).
He starts off the frame by missing again with two straight fastballs. Not a good sign. He returns to the pitch again hoping to get back in the count.
Jordy Mercer smokes the pitch but right to the glove of Yolmer Sanchez. Thank goodness for the shift because that out had an expected batting average of .770 according to Baseball Savant. There was something important to notice there aside from the contact. The velocity. It’s down to 95 mph. Cease has dialed down the intensity with which he’s throwing each fastball in an attempt to get more of a feel for the pitch. The results weren’t promising right away, but it was good to notice.
Now back at the top of the order, Cease starts off Jones with a curveball Jones lays off. Rather than go back to the four-seamer, Cease stays with the curveball twice in a row to get ahead 1-2 before missing again with his four-seamer. So now he’s at a 2-2 count. He’s mostly thrown four-seamers (which aren’t working) and curves (which guys are laying off), so he decides to go slider.
Cease’s first strikeout of his MLB career is an absolute beauty. There is so much promise with that pitch, and if he can set it up with some nice fastball command, that’s going to be responsible for a lot of strikeouts. So how does he follow that up?
Let’s take a look at his next at-bat in entirety in the next GIF.
He starts off Stewart with a four-seamer that should not have been a strike but is. As a result, Stewart is forced to swing at the next pitch as it’s in the same place and was just called a strike. Now he’s down 0-2. Cease tries to finish him off with a slider that’s too far down in the dirt and then we see it. The very first changeup of the day, and it’s actually better than I thought it was going to be as it dots the lower outer edge of the plate.
Back-to-back strikeouts to end the second.
The White Sox end the second inning by getting thrown out at home, but they’ve still managed to even the score at 2-2.
With his first strikeouts behind him, I was curious to see if Cease would have more confidence and with it better command.
This is a bit frustrating. Yes, theoretically this is a ball, but remember this was virtually the exact same pitch that home plate ump Bill Miller called a strike in the second inning. Cease decides to stick with the four-seamer, picks up the velocity to 97 again and throws two consecutive balls before giving up a single to Castellanos.
Rather than return to the four-seam, Cease starts off Dixon with a really nice slider.
He follows that up by dotting another four-seamer at the bottom of the zone.
This pitch isn’t just important because it gets Cease to 0-2. It’s important because it’s a flash of the command that he can have with his four-seamer. While he’s yet to do it consistently so far in the game, he’s shown at times why it’s a 70-grade pitch. Dixon fouls off the next two pitches before ultimately popping out on a curve that he just goes down to get.
Candelario comes up to bat for the second time. In his first at-bat, Cease got ahead with curves before eventually hitting Candelario with a four-seamer that ran way too far inside. So it only makes sense that Cease starts him away.
There it is. Another promising fastball with some nice location to it. In keeping with the theme though, Cease can’t find it consistently as he ends up giving up a 2-2 fly ball to Candelario for an out followed by a four-seamer dead over the heart of the plate for a single by Castro.
Cease then misses again with back-to-back four-seamers to Goodrum before getting a loud fly out to center.
At this point in the game, the Tigers know that Cease is a bit spotty with his four-seamer and as a result they may be able to wait out his breaking pitches. So it isn’t a surprise when Hicks gets Cease to a 3-1 count to lead off the fourth before flying out on a four-seamer. The inning looks like it may be Cease’s last as he then goes on to walk Mercer.
Until Jones comes up again. You may remember Jones as the first strikeout of Cease’s career.
Instead of starting him off with a breaking pitch, Cease throws Jones a first-pitch four-seamer that he fouls off. Cease then follows that up with a fantastic curve.
Now ahead 0-2, Cease has Jones right where he wants him. He knows he hasn’t had success elevating his four-seamers and he just saw the big cut he took at that breaking pitch, so he decides to go with another one. This time, a slider.
Dylan Cease is really going to like throwing to Jacoby Jones moving forward.
The next batter, Stewart, was Cease’s second strikeout as he got the lefty swinging at a changeup back in the second. So of course it only makes sense for Cease to throw three straight changeups to him, right?
The White Sox scored two runs in the bottom of the fourth, making the game 4-2 and putting Cease in line for his first MLB win. Cease entered the inning having thrown 87 pitches, and even if he were to escape the frame with just a few pitches thrown, this would likely be his final inning.
Cease started it off by getting behind 1-0 to Castellanos on a—surprise, surprise—elevated four-seamer. He used his changeup to get back into the count before getting a fly-ball out.
The next at-bat could be a preview of what’s to come when all of Cease’s pitches are working.
He starts off with a really nice changeup for the whiff. He follows that up by tunneling the change with a four-seamer that Dixon isn’t able to get good wood on (remember, not all foul balls are bad), and finally wrapping up the strikeout with a surprising slider that drops into the zone at the last minute.
Up to this point, Cease is really having success with his changeup. He’s getting a lot of whiffs on it and having success when he throws it in 0-0 counts.
Excluding this one that Candelario takes 388 feet to center. While the wind may have turned that into a tater, it wasn’t Cease’s best changeup of the day, and luckily, he recovered really well from it.
He starts off Castro with a four-seamer that catches the top of the zone before dropping in a curve to get ahead 0-2. Cease tries to get a whiff with the change-up which misses low and away, tries again with a four-seamer before …
One last slider right under the bat of Castro.
Five innings of work. 101 pitches. 6 K’s. 4H. 4 BB. 3 ER. Dylan Cease‘s first MLB start and—as it turned out—win.
Cease clearly has a lot of promise. The breaking pitches can be really sharp and have the ability to induce a lot of swings and misses. That curveball really does fall off a table, and while the slider doesn’t have the most horizontal run, it can be an effective pitch.
While his changeup was considered his worst pitch coming into the start, it actually left me pretty impressed. After all, it did end the day getting six whiffs, the most of any of his pitches.
That said, Cease is going to live and die by his command. There were flashes where he was able to work all parts of the zone with his four-seamer, but those moments were few and far between and inconsistent. While there were a few high four-seamers that could’ve gone his way, a majority of his fastballs were pretty errant whether they were thrown at 98 or 95. While Cease was able to escape the few jams he put himself in, a better hitting team than the Tigers may have turned this into a different result for the rookie.
Overall, Cease has some tremendous upside to him but won’t be able to reach his ceiling until he can show that he can spot that four-seamer consistently.
(Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire)