It was a trifecta of promising arms on display throughout the White Sox farm system on Thursday night, with Michael Kopech getting the nod for Charlotte, Dane Dunning starting for Birmingham, and Dylan Cease taking the ball for Winston-Salem.
Down in Winston-Salem, Dylan Cease spent Thursday evening showering in shaken beers, after Cease posted a career-high eight innings of two-run baseball en route to the Carolina League Southern Division first-half championship, in what we hope is a preview of Cease showering in Bud Light in a major league clubhouse in the not-too-distant future.
After allowing a run in the first inning, Dylan Cease retired 11 of the next 12 Wilmington Blue Rocks’ hitters, cruising through the first five innings on just 55 pitches, efficiency that Cease will need as he progresses through the Sox farm system. Cease would surrender only one more run in the ballgame, which turned into his league-leading ninth victory of the campaign.
There’s little question at this point, that Cease has been the most intriguing development in the White Sox prospect pipeline this season, checking in this morning with a 9-2 record and a 2.89 ERA in 13 starts for the Dash. The 22-year-old right-hander has 82 strikeouts compared to just 28 walks in 71.2 innings of work in 2018, and opposing hitters are hitting just .204 against the Georgia native.
Cease’s impressive campaign that culminated with a first-half title for the Dash (40-27) on Monday night, has to beg the question, was this his last start with Winston-Salem? He’s seemingly mastered the level of competition that he will see that the single-A level. The draft is over, draft picks are signing, and Winston-Salem has their first-half crown to boast. It’s time for the next challenge in Cease’s development in Birmingham.
When Cease does arrive in Birmingham, he’ll reunite with Dane Dunning, who began the season in Winston-Salem with Cease. Believe it or not, Dunning actually topped Cease’s superb performance on Thursday night, taking a perfect game into the fifth inning before surrendering a hit to the thirteenth hitter he faced.
The 23-year-old former first-round pick of the Washington Nationals twirled eight innings of shutout baseball, surrendering just four hits while striking out 10 Chattanooga hitters on his way to his fifth victory of the season since joining Birmingham. Dunning is 5-2 at the Double-A level with a 2.78 ERA, 65 strikeouts and 19 walks in 10 starts.
“I hope to keep up my recent success throughout the whole season,” Dunning said. “It’s always fun to be on the winning end, and I am just going out there and playing baseball.”
As good as Cease and Dunning were, the evening was not perfect for White Sox fans scouting the arms of the future down on the farm. In what’s been an up and down 2018 as of late for the top pitching prospect in the system, Michael Kopech turned in quite possibly his worst performance of his career on Thursday night.
The 21-year-old right-hander allowed five runs on two hits to the Norfolk Tides, and watched the conclusion of the ballgame from the dugout after just three innings of work, largely due to a whopping eight walks. To add insult to injury, Kopech also drilled a pair of Tides’ hitters, and was charged with a wild pitch, painting a picture of a guy with absolutely zero idea where the ball was traveling on this particular evening.
10 base-runners via walks/hit-by-pitch? That’s just not going to cut it.
Despite the ugly line on Thursday evening, his arrival in Chicago is more than overdue at this point. I said back in early May, when Kopech was lights-out in Charlotte — that given his ultra competitive personality — if the White Sox kept him down there into late June or even July or August, he was going to be lulled into outings like these.
I find it hard to believe that Michael Kopech can develop any more than he has, pitching to fringe below replacement level players at the Triple-A level, as opposed to working with Don Cooper in Chicago, and continuing his development against major league hitters.