White Sox Prospect Dylan Cease Working To Become A Complete Pitcher

Image credit: Dylan Cease (Photo by Fourseam Images)

Chances are, White Sox pitching prospect Dylan Cease would have been devastating this year even if he used only his fastball and curveball. Those are the two pitches the helped him cut through hitters in high school in Georgia.  
They’re also the two pitches that swayed the Cubs to draft him in the sixth round in 2014 and sign him to a $1.5 million bonus, despite knowing he’d need Tommy John surgery and wouldn’t make his pro debut until the next season.

And if he were on a reliever’s path, those two pitches would probably be more than enough to get him to the big leagues quickly. But Cease and the White Sox—to whom he was traded last summer in a deal that sent lefthander Jose Quintana to the Cubs—want him to remain a starter, so he’ll need to add a few more offerings to his repertoire.

“Locating my fastball and being able to throw my offspeed for strikes and bounce them in counts (when) I need to,” Cease said, explaining his developmental goals for the year. “I’m just trying to be a complete pitcher.”

That’s been the righthander’s primary focus so far this year at high Class A Winston-Salem, where he’s worked with pitching coach Matt Zaleski to refine his changeup and slider to the point where they can be used in his arsenal once he arrives in the major leagues.

In his last outing, on Saturday against the Carolina Mudcats, Cease had dynamite stuff. He touched 100 mph with his fastball and carried the mid- to upper-90s velocity until the last pitch—a 98 mph heater to finish off his ninth strikeout of the day—of his six-inning outing. He threw both his changeup and curveball for strikes and walked no one.

Each of the three mistakes he made were hit for solo home runs, further demonstrating the notion that big-time stuff gets severely downgraded without command. Overall, though, he was pleased with the way things turned out.

“Giving up home runs isn’t fun, but no walks, attacking guys, you have to tip your cap sometimes in baseball,” Cease said. “We won, so there’s nothing to be unhappy about. Threw my offspeed for strikes, it was a quality start but you’ve got to tip your cap sometimes.”

Winston-Salem pitching coach Matt Zaleski was with Cease last year in low Class A Kannapolis, too, and has seen Cease make big strides throughout the time they’ve been paired with one another. Cease’s walk and strikeout rates have remained nearly identical at both stops, but the difference has been the improvement and addition of pitches.

“When he came to us, he really only had fastball and curveball,” Zaleski said. “He threw a changeup occasionally and he threw a slider occasionally, but they really weren’t the quality that they needed to be for him to develop and keep going higher and higher. To his credit this year, his changeup’s become a huge, huge weapon. He’ll throw it 15-20 times a game.”

Although two of the home runs he allowed on Saturday came on changeups, he also used the pitch to get plenty of swings and misses, including as the finisher on strikeouts. Zaleski said he and Cease are working to make the action on the changeup more consistent. In its current state, the pitch will sometimes show cut action rather than fading in, away from lefthanders.

“We’re still working on that, adding a little more fade,” Zaleski said. “When he does throw it right and stays behind it it’s really good and it stays straight, but every once in a while does have some cut action on it.”

When Cease was traded, a lot more than his uniform changed. With the Cubs, he was part of an organization that was built to win now and over the long-term. With the White Sox, he’s expected to be part of a core of young players who can bring the team back to contention for division titles and pennants.

Even so, Cease is treating his development the same.

“It’s really all just baseball,” he said. “Obviously there are different people, different spring training locations and all of that, but at the same time, it’s still just baseball.”

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