As we continue our tour of the top prospects across the Chicago baseball landscape this afternoon, we take a look at Chicago Cubs #3 prospect, Dylan Cease
For the past few weeks, we at The Loop Sports have been counting down the top 15 Cubs prospects, and we’ve finally arrived at the top pitcher. 21-year-old right-hander Dylan Cease has only pitched 68.2 innings his entire minor league career, but he’s so good that, even despite the minuscule sample size, he’s still widely considered to be the Cubs’ best pitching prospect.
A highly-touted high school-er, Cease was projected to be a first round draft pick entering 2014, but when it was revealed that he needed Tommy John surgery, his stock dropped dramatically.
The Cubs drafted him in the sixth round, and were so intrigued by his elite stuff that they gave him a $1.5 million signing bonus, unheard of for someone drafted so late. For reference, the second-highest signing bonus given out in the sixth round of the 2014 draft was $650,000 dollars, nearly a third of Cease’s haul.
Why spend so much money on someone who just had potentially game-altering surgery? Because he’s freaking amazing, that’s why.
Cease, although just a skinny guy at six-foot-two and 190 lbs., throws heat. He routinely stayed in the mid-90’s with his fastball in high school and had a devastating curve to go with it. The surgery didn’t slow him down one bit, and Cease actually came back stronger. He’s hit triple digits since the procedure and has performed exceptionally well in the minors. His tight curveball hasn’t slowed down a bit, and has even been compared to Dwight Gooden’s.
His changeup isn’t bad, but it’s in no way good either. Cease doesn’t tend to throw it often or with confidence, however, making it his neediest pitch of improvement. His control is also on the fritz, as young pitchers tend to struggle with, but he’s growing stronger in that common problem area as well.
He never pitched in 2014 due to rehab from his surgery and, as an extra precaution to preserve his fragile arm, only pitched in the Arizona Rookie League in 2015. There, he pitched to a commendable 2.62 ERA in a mere 24 innings. Opponents hit .145 off of him. Walks were an issue (6 per nine innings), but strikeouts were a major highlight (9.4 per nine innings).
Entering 2016, the Cubs finally allowed Cease to pitch during an actual minor league season, which he did at Low-A Eugene. He ended the season there as their ace, with a phenomenal 2.22 ERA and 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings, with his foes hitting just .175 against him. He’s only given up one home run, and more people have gotten free passes from Cease’s lack of control than have actually reached on hits against him.
The Cubs front office has taken it exhaustively slow with Cease, but for good reason. Too much work right after elbow reconstruction can ruin a young player. This season though, Cubs Senior VP and Director of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod says that Cease’s “reins are off,” meaning that instead of hiding in short-season ball, he will start displaying his skill on a bigger scale at Single A South Bend and beyond.
You won’t end up seeing Cease in the MLB for a long time, most likely not until 2020 at the earliest, but when he arrives, he will be something special.