Every time Dylan Cease pitched this year on MiLB.TV, something went wrong with the feed from Eugene. Everything finally went right Monday evening, at least on the streaming side of things. About 9:05 PM, Cease popped up on the computer in Eugene green and white and all was right with the world. There, in the last glitter of sunlight for the day, the young phenom stepped onto the mound for the Emeralds and a bolt of lightning emerged from his fingertips and was unleashed at the pesky Hillsboro Hops, mowing them down one by one.
Hillsboro came into the game at 11-13, 6 games behind the division-leading Emeralds, who had a magic number of 9 for a first-half division title. Cease had previously made four starts and had posted a 3.18 ERA while striking out 16 batters in 17 innings. Even better, opponents were only batting .203 off him. The 20-year-old right-hander didn’t disappoint over 4.2 innings in his fifth start Monday, scattering 7 hits and allowing a pair of runs. He struck out 7 batters against only 2 walks as well.
If that seems like a bit of an abbreviated out, that’s because it was. With two outs in the 5th inning, Cease called for the trainer and manager, Jesus Feliciano, to come out to the mound. At that point, ball still in his hand, the pitcher reached up and touched his right shoulder before walking off the mound. At the time of this post, no further word has come out about his injury from Eugene or Cease’s Twitter account. I’m hoping it’s just a soft tissue injury, maybe even a cramp as the temperature was near triple digits. That’s the best we can hope for at this time.
At 6’2” and 190 pounds, Cease has a solid frame to build upon. His arm action is pretty clean and he repeats his delivery well. His calling card is a fastball that that normally sits around 95/96 but can touch 100, and he also utilizes a curveball and a changeup. Drafted in the sixth round in 2014, Cease has been handled with kid gloves after undergoing Tommy John surgery. As such, I had figured he was likely on a pitch limit of 70-80 and an innings limit of 5 or so.
Because of that, and because of the potential that has seen Cease moving up various prospect lists, it’s not surprising in the least that he was removed from this start posthaste. My first look at him in live action was a brief one, but here are some of my observations from the game and what to look for from Cease moving forward.
Throughout this year, Cease has had trouble getting out of the 1st inning. Monday was no different. He gave up a leadoff double, followed by a pop-up and a strikeout, all the while throwing 97-98 mph. The TV announcer, Matt Dompe, mentioned the stadium gun might even have been off a tick or two. Regardless, a broken-bat single brought in a run before Cease got another strikeout to end the inning. One thing I noticed when he threw a curve was his hand action at the top of his delivery. When he throws a fastball, it’s one fluid motion. When he throws a curve there seems to be a tiny pause as his hand reaches its apex, which could be something that tips the pitch to opposing hitters.
Cease labored quite a bit but did not give up a run despite throwing 25 pitches. It seemed as though every batter reached a full count, though none walked. The Hops managed only an infield single before Cease retired the last batter on another strikeout. While he was still throwing gas at 97 mph at the end of the inning, he did not look like he was going to get to the 5th.
This was the most efficient Cease has been all year. He needed just 12 pitches — six of which came in a strikeout of the last batter — to make it through the inning, putting him at 54 for the game.
Thing got weird when it looked as though Cease had picked off the first hitter, who had singled, at first base. The umpire called a balk on the pickoff attempt and the runner went to second base. Next thing you know, Cease tried to pick him off at second base and was successful. He would give up two more singles before getting a couple of pop-ups and a fly out.
He looked pretty effortless, throwing 96-97 mph again as he went over 80 pitches. When he called out for the trainer in the manager to come to the mound, it seemed as though everyone watching, myself included, gasped. My mind immediately went to the worst possible scenario and I thought elbow. But judging by Cease’s actions, it appeared to be something higher. Based on the temperature, I quickly revised my thinking to assume that he was dehydrated or had muscle cramps. I’m just speculating, but maybe they see how is he Tuesday or in his side session on Thursday. There’s a lot we don’t know. At the minor league level, it takes time before the truth is divulged.
What I Liked
From what I did see of Cease, I liked the fastball and that it stayed at 96-98 all night. I don’t think there was one time it dropped below 96. He had a very clean and effortless delivery, although his command was all over the place the first two innings. When he spotted the fastball low in the zone in the 3rd, he was quick and efficient. I also liked that he threw inside a lot, though it wasn’t always with the best results. He does move the ball around the zone quite a bit in at bat and I like that, too.
Areas to Improve
Consistent command of the fastball is Cease’s biggest area for improvment. At times he has pinpoint control low in the zone but as he goes higher he’s extremely wild, almost like Nuke LaLoosh from Bull Durham at times. His curveball looked good, but the arm action on it did not. It did not come out of his hand very smoothly and there’s that slight hitch at the top of his delivery. I also would like to see him throw his changeup more, though I think developing fastball command might be a more important issue, particularly at this level.
Hopefully, we will find out later today what Cease’s prognosis is. I have my fingers crossed for cramping, dehydration, or a soft tissue injury. I’m not going to go in the other direction, I just can’t.