While he has seen nothing but success in his professional career, struggles are nothing new for White Sox top pitching prospect Dylan Cease.
The star right-hander has seen some pretty down and lonely situations in his baseball career, including the terrible news that he would require Tommy John surgery coming out of high school in 2014 just before the MLB Draft, causing him to fall at least five rounds.
However, with Cease’s mental makeup, he took that roadblock, turned it into a positive, and made himself even better.
“That was definitely mentally harder than it was physically,” Cease said. “It was about 15 months straight in Arizona from what I remember. At that time, I did not understand a whole lot about the process or how to be professional. It was good in that sense because it taught be to follow a process and not get too far ahead of myself. At the end of the day, it was unfortunate, but I also grew from it.”
Since the recovery, life is nowhere near lonely for Cease. He has all eyes on him when he takes the hill and he is just fine with the added pressure that a full fan base puts on him as a future ace.
“I don’t feel any pressure, personally, because at the end of the day, it is me trying to give myself to the team the best I can,” Cease said. “There really is no pressure to me. I am just trying to help the team win.”
To say that his fastball has recovered since the injury would be an understatement. Cease sits in the mid- to upper-90s on the radar gun and gets plenty of life.
With this, Cease piles up the strikeouts with around a 30% K-rate for his Minor League career. Just to put it simple, his fastball is the bread and butter.
While this is the case, Cease doesn’t sit back and watch the radar gun. However, he does pay a bit of attention to where he’s sitting.
“You always (pay attention to velocity) to a certain extent,” Cease said. “It is not my main focus by any means.”
When it comes to the rest of his arsenal, Cease has a lot of confidence in his curveball. To no surprise, the pitch was rated a 65 by MLB Pipeline. This sits just below the 70 on his elite-level fastball.
With this one-two punch, Cease is also working to add a changeup, which might be the pitch to put him over the top as a star ultimately at the next level.
“I would say that my curveball is my best off speed pitch,” Cease said. “I go with my slider and change up too. I feel confident with everything…(The change up) is probably my least thrown pitch right now. As I continue to get the feel for it, I am going to throw it more in games. I feel like it is headed in the right direction.”
While the strikeouts and the weapons are there, Cease has also seen his walk rate drop every year. He credits that to improvements in consistency with his mechanics and delivery.
Cease said that when he is going well with his mechanics, like he is currently, he is putting most of the stress on his legs rather than his arm. This is critical for a pitcher with a major arm injury in the past. He said that he is happy with his velocity from day one of the season and is pleased where everything is.
“The more consistent that you can make your delivery and your motion, the more consistent that your release point is going to be,” Cease said. “When everything is going good, I don’t even have to think about it. I can keep my eye on the target and let my body do the work, then make adjustments from there.”
With this consistency, it allows Cease just pitch, rather than trying to battle the mental game as well.
“I think a big thing with pitchers, and I have been there before, you try to fix intellectually and think your way through it,” Cease said. “And you get robotic. For me, it is just trusting that I can do it, keeping my head on target and throwing it there.”
Everything combined Cease tossed a career-high 124 innings last season at Double-A. He said that he does not quantify goals, but rather goes high level. He said that whatever is decided for him with innings this year, his goal is just to take the ball every five days. Soon, that will be taking that ball on the rubber on the Southside of Chicago.