Although his backstory is well-known by now, Dylan Cease has been getting a lot of attention lately. And rightfully. But a little preamble for those not intimately familiar with arguably the Chicago Cubs’ top pitching prospect.
The Cubs drafted Cease in the sixth round of the 2014 MLB Draft. It was a notable selection, however, because Cease was widely considered to be a first-round talent (potentially even top 10 overall).
Why did his draft stock fell so dramatically, then? It’s simple: Tommy John surgery.
Just a few months before the draft, Cease left a (high school) start with elbow soreness – soreness that eventually revealed a partial tear of his UCL. Going into the draft then, whichever team selected Cease was doing so knowing full well that he was about to undergo Tommy John surgery.
The Cubs took the gamble.
Despite a recommended bonus of $269,500, Cease received a $1.5 million signing bonus from Chicago (thanks in part to savings accrued by signing their first round pick – Kyle Schwarber – to an under slot deal), and underwent Tommy John surgery immediately after being signed. Cease didn’t throw again until May 2015. But even then, the Cubs took things slowly. He threw just 24.0 innings in 2015, and, due to some injuries, only another 44.2 in 2016. But that brings us to today.
Cease is healthy, ready to go, and is firing near-100 MPH bullets out of the Cubs’ camp in Arizona.
- At ESPN, Keith Law writes about Cease’s “enormous upside,” with the caveat that he still has plenty of ground to cover. More specifically, if he’d like to remain a starter (something the Cubs would VERY much prefer), Cease needs to improve in several areas. One such area would be fastball command. Although he’s capable of throwing with elite velocity, there isn’t much movement on his fastball. According to Law, that means he’ll have to learn to command it well – something with which his new, cleaner delivery has already assisted. For a more detailed scouting report on Cease’s three pitches – fastball, curveball, change-up – and path to success, check out ESPN.
- Cease, himself, would agree that his stuff needs work, despite the electric fastball. From the Chicago Tribune (Mark Gonzales): “I would like to see development in my changeup this year. I feel very good with my breaking ball right now. So with that one, it will be more of throwing one for a strike and then bounce it when I want to because I feel confident enough with the spin and depth.” Cease went on to add that he’s still getting a feel for his change-up in games right now, but it’s interesting to note what he’ll be working on, specifically, this year.
- Because remember, this is not just your run-of-the-mill pitching prospect. According to Jed Hoyer, the Cubs haven’t had a pitcher of his quality in the organization since they took over in 2011. At the Athletic, Sahadev Sharma writes that Cease may just be the breakthrough pitching prospect the Cubs have been looking for all of these years. And one of the revealing bits from his article includes the idea that, in a weird way, the injury may ultimately help Cease’s career long term. While he was rehabbing the Cubs were able to completely redefine his delivery from something that was once considered violent. “You have guys who throw real hard but they’re all over the place,” minor league pitching coordinator Mike Mason told Sharma. “Then you have a guy like Dylan who started out like that, but he’s starting to understand what quality strikes are and what he needs to do mechanically to get there.” His will be a career to watch.
- The other Cubs’ top prospect whose season will be one to watch is Eloy Jimenez. In fact, that’s more true now than ever. If you recall, Jimenez was recently shut down for three weeks, after experiencing some soreness in his shoulder (which was ultimately diagnosed as a bone bruise). It was a bummer for Jimenez and fans, because we were finally getting some more eyes on his bat, as he ripped through Spring Training. Even though he was never a threat to make the team out of camp, tracking his progress against upper level players was really great.
- Still, the Cubs are relieved by the results of the MRI and CT scan. In fact, Jed Hoyer is chalking it up as a win, compared to the alternative. The only remaining questions we have now is what’s next? According to CSN Chicago, Jimenez will probably hang around extended Spring Training for a while on a throwing program, before he can be medically cleared for game-speed action. After that, Patrick Mooney guesses, Jimenez will likely head out to Class-A Myrtle Beach. From where I’m sitting, however, if he does come back healthy to High-A, I wouldn’t expect it to be too long before he’s crushing homers in Double-A. This has all been a setback, sure, but just a minor one. More at CSN Chicago.
- Similarly – but possibly 1-2 years ahead of Jimenez – there’s the Cubs’ second best prospect, Ian Happ. And I only say second best, because the scouting reports and various prospect rankings typically show a fairly significant difference in their upside. But as far as floor goes, Happ has a really great chance of being a long-time Major Leaguer. As a switch-hitting batter with patience, pop, an advanced approach at the plate, and the ability to play both in the infield and outfield, it seems like he’s destined to remain in the big leagues for quite some time. Whether that’s as a starter or a bench player (let alone if it’s for the Cubs or not) remains to be seen, but he’s still an exciting prospect. And he just so happens to be killing it this Spring: .400/.432/.725; 3HRs.
- In fact, thanks to his performance this Spring, the Chicago Sun Times (Gordon Wittenmyer) asks if Happ is the next “big bat” on his way to Chicago? Of course, finding a starting job when Javy Baez can’t manage to lock one down is going to be difficult. And Happ’s not even the only switch-hitting Triple-A-ish bound infield prospect the Cubs have (Jeimer Candelario). The path forward for Happ, then, is increasing his versatility in the infield and outfield, so that when an opening does arise, he can step in no matter where it is. He’ll probably start out in Tennessee (AA), but if he does, it won’t be long until he’s in Iowa.
- And finally, if you are familiar with Cubs outfield prospect Jacob Hannemann, but not his past, it’s a story worth checking out. After initially being drafted by the Royals out of high school, Hannemann took two years off to go on a Mormon mission. During that time, he played no baseball (and was apparently allowed to call home only twice a year). Following his time in the mission, Hannemann, 25, got back to baseball (plus a year of football) and was drafted by the Cubs. Despite being a couple years older than the average prospect drafted after only a year of college, Hannemann has less experience. But there is still plenty of upside there. You can read more about his decision to depart from baseball for two years and much more at Cubs.com.