The Arizona Rookie League, which runs from June to September, consists of fourteen minor league teams from fourteen different MLB affiliates. Representing those fourteen teams, there are hundreds of players ranging from big time draft picks, to injured rehab projects to guys getting their professional, proverbial feet wet.
The Cubs’ affiliate in the Arizona League (the AZL Cubs) finished their season in first place of the AZL East on September 1, with a record of 31-22. On that team, among other intriguing prospects, you’ll find 19-year-old starting pitcher Dylan Cease – the Cubs’ sixth round pick of the 2014 MLB Draft.
At the time of the draft, Cease was projected as a first round pick, but fell all the way down to the Cubs in the sixth round, due to injury concerns, paired with the money it would take to sign him. Cease was set to undergo Tommy John Surgery at the end of June 2014. Because the Cubs saved money on their under-slot first round pick (Kyle Schwarber) and under-slot second round pick (Jake Stinnett), they were able to offer Cease enough money ($1.5M) to lure him away from his commitment to Vanderbilt. It was a risk to spend so lavishly on a young, admittedly-talented, but obviously-flawed pitcher given the injury concerns, but it was a gamble the Cubs took nonetheless. No one denied the talent.
While we’ve held some high hopes for Cease around these parts as he worked his way through his first year back from surgery, there wasn’t much outside recognition of his progress. However, after eleven games (eight starts) in the AZL, we are getting the first outside assurance that the Cubs’ sixth round gamble may have actually paid off: According to Baseball America, Dylan Cease is the second best prospect in the AZL. He is the only Cub to make the list, which features three Brewers in the top five, but his positioning near the top is very encouraging.
In his rookie campaign, Cease threw just 24 innings, with a 2.63 ERA and a 3.98 FIP. His BABIP was quite low (.207), but so was his left on base percentage (60.0%). In such a small sample size, though, the results and stats are a little less important than the reports from scouts/managers/etc., and this ranking serves to underscore that. Included in the Baseball America article is a more detailed write-up on Cease and his progress this year, but it is premium content, so I will only share a tidbit…
While Cease’s command isn’t completely back, he clearly possessed some of the best stuff in the AZL. His fastball consistently sat 95-96 mph and touched 99. His secondary pitches are still inconsistent, with his low-80s curveball with three-quarters break an average pitch that plays up because of the fastball velocity.
Ranked at 14 in the Bleacher Nation Top 40, Luke agrees that Cease has as high of a ceiling as anyone in the system. Cease could be a truly special talent. Overall, 2016 will be a very big year for Cease, who, if healthy, may progress through the system with relative speed. His future may yet be at the top of a rotation, but for now, I’ll gladly take the 19-year-old flame thrower ranking among the best prospects in his league.