After joining the White Sox via the Jose Quintana trade last July, Dylan Cease has continued to ascend — ranked as the fifth-best prospect in the organization on MLB Pipeline.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound righty retired the first 20 batters he faced on Wednesday, culminating in a one-hit shutout over seven innings. Cease also notched a season-high 12 strikeouts. He owns a 2.87 ERA in his 18 starts (100.1 innings pitched) between Class-A Advanced Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham.
Cease spoke with The Loop Sports about his development in the White Sox farm system, along with his teammates’ growth. It’s been edited for length and clarity.
The Loop Sports: You threw a changeup in a 3-2 count to end the fifth inning on Wednesday, resulting in a strikeout while retaining your perfect game. How much have your off-speed pitches progressed this season?
Dylan Cease: It’s like night and day, even [compared to] earlier this year. I must’ve thrown 80 percent of off-speed [pitches] for strikes [on Wednesday]. I’m feeling really good with it. I think it’s just throwing and having the experience, doing it for a couple years. This just seems to be the year where things have come together. Taking the hump out of my curveball and throwing a slider. That’s (slider) been a good pitch for me.
TLS: Your strikeout rate (37.2 percent) is its highest since your days in the Cubs’ organization, and it’s 7.5 percentage points higher than last season. How’ve you increased that?
DC: It’s just been about getting ahead of guys and putting guys away with fastball or off-speed stuff. My off-speed stuff has been so consistent. I’m always trying to get an 0-2 [count] on every batter. Every pitcher is.
TLS: Has your approach differed since your call-up to Double-A?
DC: I haven’t changed my approach. I’m still just trying to execute my pitches. The games I do really well in are the games I execute most of my pitches. It’s my go-to adjustments that I do. From the get-go I’m thinking, “Can the target land?” I try to keep it simple cause my body knows what to do. It’s just doing it, really. The big thing is not panicking and trusting that you can do it.
TLS: How important is repeating mechanics, especially for younger pitchers?
DC: That’s the name of the game, really. The more consistent your mechanics are, the more consistent your release point is going to be, and the better chance you’re going to have of executing your pitch. It’s something I’m working on. It’s something that every minor-league pitcher should be working on.
TLS: Which veteran White Sox pitcher has aided your growth the most?
DC: James Shields was watching a side session one day [during spring training], and he noticed I was throwing my curveball. He just said, “It’s as simple as you needing to get your foot down before you throw it.” As simple as that sounds, it really has improved my game dramatically.
TLS: How have fellow starters Bernardo Flores and Jimmy Lambert impressed in Birmingham?
DC: I don’t think he’s (Bernardo) had a bad start all year. He’s been executing his four pitches (fastball, curveball, changeup and cutter). His curveball and changeup have been a really good pair for him, but he’s also going in and out with his fastball really well.
For Jimmy, it’s definitely his command of his fastball, and then he’s got a really nasty changeup. Especially in the games I’ve watched him pitch, it feels like he’s getting 70 percent swing and misses on it.
TLS: What stands out about Zack Collins — behind the plate?
DC: Zack’s defense has come a long way since the beginning of the year. We go into the game with a gameplan, and we try to execute it. He’s obviously a prospect, so there’s a little more hype. People want to think that it’s a future battery mate [for me], but we don’t look at it any differently. We’re down here trying to work on things to become better ballplayers.
TLS: Have you caught yourself looking ahead to pitching in the majors?
DC: Not really. The game is so hard that you’ll taught a lesson really quick if you start to lose focus like that. At the end of the year is when I can start to dream about it a little more. Right now, I’m just locked into what I’m doing.
Follow Eli on Twitter: @EliHershkovich — Feature Photo: USA Today