2018 SSS Top Prospect rank: 5
SSS rank among all right-handed starting pitchers in the system: 2
Cease, a native of Milton, Ga., was ranked 30th best prep prospect in the 2014 MLB draft according to PerfectGame, prior to hurting his elbow in March of that year. The Chicago Cubs, in need of pitching prospects and noting that he had one of the best fastball/curveball combinations available, still paid him $1.5 million in the sixth round despite knowing that he’d need Tommy John surgery. Cease was worked in slowly with the Cubs organization, pitching just 68 2⁄3 innings over his first two seasons. In 2017, Cease’s first year in full-season leagues, he did quite well despite being held to strict pitch counts for South Bend: 2.79 ERA, 1.26 WHIP in 51 2⁄3 innings (13 starts) 39 hits (.214 OBA) and 26 walks (4.53 BB/9) while striking out 74 (12.89 K/9). Despite his relatively low number of innings, Cease was listed among Top 100 prospects by outfits like Baseball America and MLB Pipeline.
Cease was traded along with Eloy Jimenez, Matt Rose and Bryant Fete on July 13 to the White Sox for southpaw Jose Quintana. Cease did his best Quintana impersonation, posting a record of 0-8 in nine starts despite posting a respectable 3.89 ERA and 1.27 WHIP for Kannapolis over 41 2⁄3 innings. In those innings, he allowed 35 hits (.229 OBA) and 18 walks (3.89 BB/9) while fanning 52 hitters (11.23 K/9). Most importantly, Cease got through the season injury-free.
Cease began 2018 with Winston-Salem and was terrific in 13 starts, totaling 71 2⁄3 innings, posting a 2.89 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. He allowed just 52 hits (.204 OBA) and 28 walks (3.52 BB/9) while striking out 82 batters (10.30 K/9) for the Dash through June 21, when he was promoted to Birmingham. With the Barons, he exceeded his terrific Kanny numbers in posting a spectacular 1.72 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 10 starts covering 52 1⁄3 innings. In those innings, he relinquished just 30 hits (.168 OBA) and 22 walks (3.78 BB/9) while striking out 72 (13.41 K/9) Southern League hitters. While he was allowed to pitcher far deeper into games than he had in his first three professional seasons, Cease didn’t seem to show any fatigue; in fact, over his last nine starts, he posted a sensational 0.94 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, and 13.41 K/9. As was often the case this year, Cease was throwing as hard, if not harder, at the end of the game than he was at the beginning. For someone with an injury history, this was an extremely positive sign.
According to MLB Pipeline, Cease’s fastball grades 70, peaking at 98-100 mph while also featuring some sinking and running action. He also has a grade-65 hard curveball that, at its best, has been compared to Dwight Gooden’s. This third pitch, a changeup, is considered merely average, although one really can’t tell from his performance this year; lefties in the Carolina and Southern Leagues actually had a lower batting average against Cease than righties.
Cease’s biggest issue, like most young power pitchers, is throwing strikes. His walk rate was a bit higher than he’d like, which means that he often allowed hitters to go deep into counts. Thus, he often reaches the 100-pitch mark by the fifth or sixth inning.
Cease has done nothing in Charlotte this season that wouldn’t place him on the “Michael Kopech track” for promotion to Chicago later in 2019: 4-2 in nine starts, 3.26 ERA, 1.340 WHIP and a slight downtick in walks.
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