In some ways, the future success of this Sox rebuild could end up depending on just how good Dylan Cease ends up being. There are legitimate questions about his ceiling, and he probably is not going to end up being a true ace, but he could very well be a top of the rotation starter. With Giolito asserting himself as the ace and Michael Kopech only having a ceiling placed on his potential by TJ surgery, the Sox don’t need Cease to be a world beater, but they do need him to be good. 2019 served as a decent starting point. Let’s dig in:
2019 MLB Stats
14 starts 73 innings
5.79 ERA 5.19 FIP
9.99 K/9 4.32 BB/9 1.55 WHIP
45.7% GB-rate 68.1 LOB% 21.4% HR/FB
128 ERA- 0.7 fWAR
Tell Me A Story: After tearing a hole through AA in 2018, Cease was pretty close to MLB ready at the start of the season but still started out in Charlotte. I actually didn’t mind that approach because we all know TINSTAAPP, and that really was less about service time (they left him down until July, after all) and more about him finding a groove with his stuff before coming to the bigs. He was solid through his 15 starts for the Knights, though not nearly the dominant pitcher he had been in Birmingham last season. Still, he struck out 24% of his hitters and posted a 3.79 FIP, though his actual ERA was 4.48 and he walked 10.5% of batters.
Once he got to the majors, those K- and BB-rates were nearly identical. He actually struck out batters more frequently, with a 24.9% K-rate, but still had that 10.7% walk rate. The walk rate might just always be a thing for him – even in 2018 with the Barons he walked 10.8% of batters, he just had the fastball and curveball to beat guys after the fact, and ended up with an 85.8 LOB%. It’s not exactly surprising that moving up to AAA and then MLB resulted in him getting away with the walks far less often. That’s just going to be something he has to overcome moving forward if he can’t stop walking guys, and right now there isn’t really a reason to believe he will.
Luckily, the fastball is still electric and his curveball is one of the best in baseball, at least by average break. As he hones those in more and hopefully starts to throw more strikes, hitters aren’t gonna be able to wait him out as much, and he is going to keep them off-balance.
Perhaps strangely, I think one of the best things Cease has going for him is that by all reports he is one of the mentally strongest dudes in the Sox organization. He is a super-zen yoga guy who literally traveled to meet a yoga guru and wears #84 because that’s how many poses there are in yoga apparently. There’s almost always been reports on him being very calm on the mound and being someone who can easily keep his focus. He also has apparently invested himself briefly in the brain training Lucas Giolito did to help himself get back on track mentally, which should just help with all that even more.
Contract: Team control through 2025, likely arb eligible in 2023.
Welcome Back or Boot In The Ass: Easy call here that you’re keeping him. Overall, Cease absolutely has a high ceiling, but the control is a legitimate concern going forward. He won’t necessarily have to sort it out entirely to succeed, but he’s gonna need to improve at least a little bit to force hitters to not wait him out so much moving forward. He also needs to find a way to keep guys in the yard, although I am not wildly concerned about those considering that he gave up 15 homers in 14 starts last year after only surrendering 16 in his entire MiLB career. I’m confident (perhaps irrationally) that he isn’t going to live in the 20+% range on HR/FB. With Giolito and Kopech likely to be an elite 1-2 punch going forward, Cease being able to be a #3 in this rotation could be a huge advantage for the Sox in the years to come.