Big League Debut: Dylan Cease, Chicago White Sox

Photo credit: Lance Brozdowski

Dylan Cease: 5 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 5 K (July 3)

After weeks of reporters asking Rick Renteria for a timetable on an eventual Dylan Cease’s promotion, the 23-year-old made his debut on the South Side against the Detroit Tigers. While his final line does not inspire praise, his stuff does. Cease’s fastball sat steadily around 98 mph in the first inning, eventually settling into the 95- to 97-mph window by the fifth.

“[James McCann and I] talked before the game and he said, ‘Hey for the first couple just follow me and whatever I put down throw,’ and I said that’s perfect,” Cease told myself and reporters after his debut.

He paired his 79-81 mph curveball with an 84-86 mph vertical breaking slider and heavily favored his mid-80s changeup against his last few batters. While his curveball is aesthetically pleasing due to the sheer amount of break, he possessed better command of his slider throughout the start.

Although many billed Cease as a fastball-curveball pitcher, his slider is integral to his mix, if not more important than his curveball. The unexpected presence of his changeup late in his outing showed a repertoire advanced beyond my prior perceptions of this 2014 draftee. The pitch has nearly a 12-mph differential off his fastball, well beyond the 8 to 10 mph of separation considered optimal. In an age of uniform approaches to hitters—high fastballs, ample sliders—this oddity might could be a benefit to the pitch’s effectiveness versus left-handed hitters.

The entirety of Cease’s repertoire comes back to his control. His stuff is good enough to miss bats in the zone. This should make fans less concerned about his command (spotting pitches) and more focused on putting the ball near the zone long enough to induce swings. That is easier said than done. Cease was missing by feet, not inches, in the first inning of his debut. When he went back into the dugout a conversation with the revitalized Lucas Giolito, he settled back in.

“I came in and I said to him, ‘My fastball is cutting, it looks like a wiffle ball,’ and I said what advice do you have for me,” Cease said. “[Giolito] basically said get my direction going towards the plate and I was able to do that and lock back in.”" Cease struck out six and walked only one batter across his next four innings. His fastball command never came fully back into the picture, but he commanded his breaking balls enough to prevent implosion.

One of the most under-covered aspects of Cease’s game is his athleticism, evident in his delivery. Individuals like Top Velocity’s Brent Pourciau have praised the right-hander’s hip-to-shoulder separation and it’s hard to overlook when he’s on the mound. There’s a slight hesitation in his delivery as his back leg drives off the rubber, but the reason he’s able to flirt with 100 mph at his 6-foot-2, 190-pound frame is due to these dynamic body positions few others achieve so well. He may always show velocity and stuff over command, leaving many to project him as a future below-average command starter, but there’s the entirety of his package results in at least an average starting pitcher at the major league level.

My biggest takeaway is how advanced both his slider and changeup were and how they almost stole the show over his curveball. His present four-pitch mix, if the quality of pitches are this consistent, is far more enticing than a profile dominated by his fastball and curveball. Enjoy, White Sox fans.