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His fastball frequently is clocked in triple digits. The curveball and changeup are rated 55/60 and 45/50, respectively, by FanGraphs. He was the freakin' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2018.
Yet, Dylan Cease is finding out just how difficult it is to get hitters out in the major leagues. Part of the problem with guys like Cease and other hot prospects, not only with the Sox but throughout the baseball universe, is that the expectations and ballyhoo are so intense and lofty that anything less becomes a disappointment suffered by a portion of the faithful that you'd think their dog just died.
Last Thursday, when Cease gave up back-to-back homers to the Twins' Jake Cave and C.J. Cron, not even the most fearsome hitters in the Twins' scary lineup, to start the top of the third inning, the Sox trailed 7-0 and he was finished for the day. He had faced 16 batters, 11 of whom reached base. This obviously was not the Dylan Cease advertised as a crucial piece of this rebuilding scheme.
Cease's record sunk to 3-7 while his ERA swelled to 6.92. He's been tagged for 13 home runs in just 52 innings in this homer-happy era. The Sox's other Dylan, Covey, got a one-way ticket to Charlotte for similar performances earlier this season.
There must be an explanation for Cease's lack of success thus far. Last week manager Rick Renteria and pitching coach Don Cooper thought possibly Cease was tipping his pitches. Maybe. However, there's no guarantee that hitters can drive the ball more than 400 feet even if they know what's coming. The crux of the matter is that the 23-year-old right-hander, who was drafted by the Cubs as a high schooler five years ago, is still learning how to pitch.
Finesse is required. It's not what you throw but when and where you throw it. We also should note that Cease wasn't lights out at Charlotte before he was summoned to the South Side for his debut in early July. In 15 starts at Triple-A this season, Dylan gave up more hits than innings pitched while walking more than four batters per nine innings. Compare that to the season before when Cease yielded only 82 hits in 124 innings while fanning 160. His ERA was a sparkling 2.40.
But now that Cease is playing against the big boys, none of his minor league numbers really matter. Assuming that he's healthy - assistant trainer James Kruk visited the mound on Thursday after Cease threw a pitch far above Nelson Cruz's head that banged off the screen; Cease assured everyone he was feeling fit - Cease will continue to be a student of his craft at the highest level. A contending team wouldn't be able to afford a student such as Cease. For a club going nowhere this season, the Sox are willing to accommodate his trials and tribulations.
But take heart, people. The list below will show you it's not how you start but how you finish. Present and past pitchers who wobbled and swayed in their initial seasons are easier to locate than a Dylan Cease breaking ball. Included is teammate Lucas Giolito, who briefly appeared for the Nationals in 2016 before throwing his first pitch for the White Sox a year later. The list includes the first three seasons for Sandy Koufax and Zack Greinke, and the initial two years for the other pitchers.
The major takeaway is that all of these moundsmen walked too many hitters as young pitchers but later developed command as they learned and improved. Of course, there always is the possibility that Cease doesn't possess the fiber of a big league pitcher, but that verdict is a long way off. For now, patience is required.
Furthermore, he is not alone. Reynaldo Lopez failed to complete the first inning Saturday evening against Atlanta, facing nine hitters, retiring only two, while giving up six runs and as many hits.
The White Sox have had a number of sorry weeks this season, but the past seven days might qualify as the nadir. Being swept both by the Twins and Braves, Renteria's charges were outscored 47-23. The combined ERA of all pitchers not named Lucas Giolito was a horrifying 9.00 as the team dropped all six decisions.
Old age creates challenges to short-term memory. For this oldster, I'm having a difficult time recalling the team's last win.
Leaving the most recent fiasco for a moment, the one player who has established himself as a legitimate major leaguer on the Sox roster is a guy who is unsigned for the future. Of course, that's first baseman Jose Abreu, who recently recorded the 1,000th hit of his career, all of which has been spent on the South Side.
Abreu has sworn allegiance to the Sox, and The Chairman has averred that the 32-year-old Cuban will play his entire career in a Sox uniform. While some of the team's personnel moves can be questioned, the signing of Abreu to a six-year, $68 million contract prior to the 2014 season has to be one of the most intelligent decisions in team history.
Looking at an array of big thumpers in the game today, Abreu stacks up with the best. The list below shows that Abreu leads all others in hits while ranking fourth in RBIs. He drove in his 103rd run of the season on Sunday. With nine more, he will have averaged 100 RBIs a season for his career. In addition, he is one of the lowest paid players among the big run-producers.
Don't misunderstand. This is not an appeal for a GoFundMe campaign for Abreu. I only bring this up for comparison. However, I also wonder why Abreu's name is not more prominently mentioned as one of the more attractive free agents for the 2020 season. Is it because other clubs won't mess with Jerry Reinsdorf? Is age a factor?
Abreu was hit twice on Saturday by Dallas Keuchel on his left bicep. The swelling and multi-colors of his ample upper arm were apparent on television. Not only did Abreu stay in the game, but he played again on Sunday. He missed time last year with an infection unrelated to baseball. Abreu may not be indestructible, but he's clearly beyond durable.
There are four players in the chart above who are older than Abreu, including Nelson Cruz, 39, who has had a dandy time against the White Sox this season, hitting .471 with eight homers and 23 RBIs. David Ortiz played until the age of 40. Over his last seven seasons, starting when he was 33, Big Papi averaged 32 home runs and 100 RBIs. Might not Abreu's body provide him a chance to play as long as people like Cruz and Ortiz?
Why wouldn't there be competition for signing Abreu? Therefore, Rick Hahn will need to open the vault as wide as possible to make sure that Abreu remains in the fold. Anything less not only will significantly weaken the team, but it also will supremely tax the patience of fans who remain loyal to the strategy of building a contending ballclub for the future.
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