Feature Photo: Dylan Cease, RHP, Cubs
This week, Emily Waldon gives us and update on Dylan Cease (RHP, Cubs), while Nick J. Faleris says that third baseman Michael Chavis is perking up at High A Salem after two quiet seasons in the low minors for the Red Sox. And Dave DeFreitas profiles Isan Diaz (SS/2B, Brewers) – who is showing that his 2016 power numbers weren’t a fluke – and the Rays’ Willy Adames, who looks ready to be the club’s Opening Day shortstop in 2018.
2080 Prospect Spotlights
Dylan Cease, RHP, Cubs (Class A South Bend, Midwest League)
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/190 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1st 2017): 21y, 3m
Though Tommy John surgery is now a distant memory, the road to full strength for Cease hasn’t moved at the pace fans may have been hoping for, but he might finally be finding his stride in South Bend. Over 34 innings for the Class A Cubs, Cease has settled into a regular rotation turn with a 2.65 ERA, and fanning 54 batters over his first eight starts.
On the hill, Cease is as fluid as they come, with mechanics and a motion resembling that of Hall of Famer Mike Mussina (RHP, Orioles, Yankees, 1991-2008). With a lean build, Cease is able to stay relatively tall, working from an easy-effort, high-3/4’s arm slot. His arm action is short in back, and he keeps the ball tucked away for some deception in the motion. He generates one of the more lethal fastball/curve combinations around – a combo that he’s been known for going back to his high school days at Milton (Milton, GA).
His fastball sits comfortably at 95-to-97 mph (T98), with late, riding life. Cease shows a natural ability to self-correct on a hitter-by-hitter basis, adding and subtracting on his fastball and mixing in a vicious curveball that sits 74-to-76 mph with big-time snap. Cease keeps the ball low in the zone and does a good job keeps hitters off balance with his secondary stuff.
While visibly confident in both the curveball and the heater, his third pitch still has some slight inconsistency to it. Currently a fringe-average offering, Cease’s changeup sits 84-to-86 mph, but he lacks consistent execution, preventing it from being a go-to option in high-leverage spots. It has enough life and separation off the fastball to where it should settle in as an average pitch down the road, should he be able to throw it for strikes when he needs to.
Last year with Short-Season A Eugene in the Northwest League, Cease surfaced as a true swing-and-miss guy, boosting his SO/9 from 9.3 in 2015 to 13.5 in 2016, and now up to its present 14.3 SO/9 rate. Control remains an issue, though it’s trending in the right direction with his walk rates dropping in each of his first three seasons, though he’s still sitting on a well-below-average 4.8 BB/9 rate. With a pair of plus pitches already locked and loaded, Cease’s focus will need to be on gaining confidence in his changeup and improving his control profile. If he is able to turn those corners and continue progressing, he could develop into a very good number-four rotation piece who could be ready for big league action as early as 2019. -Emily Waldon
Michael Chavis, 3B, Red Sox (High A Salem, Carolina League)
Ht/Wt: 5’10”/210 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1st 2017): 21y, 8m
Since joining Michael Kopech (RHP, White Sox) as a Day One selection for Boston in the 2014 MLB Draft, Chavis has struggled to establish himself in the prospect world. Despite entering the draft as one of the more highly regarded bats at the high school ranks, Chavis has struggled mightily in pro ball, failing to post an OPS over .685 in his two full seasons of pro ball, and striking out in 28% of his 810 plate appearances during that span.
One month into the 2017 season – his second tour through the Carolina League – the Georgia prep product has been a different animal, slashing .361/.439/.701 and dropping his strikeout rate to 20% through his first 164 plate appearances. Not only is Chavis making more consistent, and better, contact, but the young corner infielder has also launched 11 home runs this season (good for second in the Carolina League behind Taylor Gushue (C, Nationals)) and 14 doubles (good for fourth). His average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage all pace the league.
Chavis boasts good bat speed and natural loft in his swing, combining for easy power when he barrels the ball. With his contact rates improving greatly this year, so too have his power numbers and his batting average, quickly making him one of the more dangerous hitters in the lower minors. Cognizant of Chavis’ struggles at the plate the last two seasons, and already housing one of the best third base prospects in the game at Double-A Portland in Rafael Devers, the Sox can afford to take it slow with Chavis for now. In addition to allowing him to enjoy and build upon his Carolina League success, it would also give Chavis additional time to work through elbow inflammation that has limited him to DH duties in two-thirds of his games this season. – Nick Faleris
Isan Diaz, SS/2B, Brewers (High A Carolina, Carolina League)
Ht/Wt: 5’10”/185 lbs. B/T: L/R Age (as of April 1, 2017): 20y 10m
Diaz has picked up right where he left off in 2016, and is currently showing that the power he displayed a year ago for Class A Wisconsin was no fluke. So far through May, Diaz is hitting .260 with a .201 ISO and .806 OPS. His strikeouts are down about 2% from 2016 and his walk percentages are about even (11.3% in 2017, 12% 2016). While it is still early, Diaz is a known quantity now and likely is not sneaking up on pitchers any more, so the early success after moving to High A is a strong indicator of his ability to adjust as the competition gets stronger.
Diaz is extremely quick through the hitting zone, and while his actions are smooth and easy, he generates above-average bat speed and tremendous torque for his size. He gets good barrel exit and creates excellent carry on his fly balls and line drives. To this point, the majority of his home-run power has been to the pull field, but he does have juice to left-center field and center field, with seven of his 19 extra-base hits going to that part of the park. He has always shown ability to hang in versus lefties (turning in almost even splits each of the past two seasons), and this year has been no different with and .343 average, 23 hits and seven walks in 74 plate appearances versus southpaws to-date. Diaz may get pull-happy at times and get caught trying to jerk the ball out of the yard, resulting in a fair amount of weak, roll-over ground balls – but his compact frame and easy actions are indicative of him growing into significant pop to the big part of the diamond. He may not have a ton of physical projection, but some of those left-center field doubles will soon start leaving the yard.
Whether or not Diaz stays at short is yet to be determined, but the ingredients are there for him to handle short and be an offensive minded player at a premium position in the big leagues. Diaz just turned 20 years old this month, so expect him to stay at High A for most of 2017 and hit Double-A as a 21 year old in 2018. Barring any sort of set-back, it looks as though Diaz is on pace to be in the big league conversation come late 2018, early 2019 – a trajectory that should have him ready to contribute for a very competitive Milwaukee club. – Dave DeFreitas
Willy Adames, SS, Rays (Triple-A Durham, International League)
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 200 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1, 2017): 21y 7m
At the time of the David Price (LHP, Red Sox) trade, Adames was a little known quantity in what seemed like a middling return on investment in return for such a prominent big league rotation piece. Now, as Adames has climbed the ladder and sits on the cusp of the big leagues as a 21-year-old, it’s obvious what the Rays saw back in 2014 when they agreed to that deal.
Adames has really grown into his frame the last couple years and stands at a very solid 200 pounds – he has always been a plus athlete with easy actions, but now has added significant strength to those actions and is beginning to show some legitimate power potential. After a very strong 2016 campaign that saw him collect 48 extra-base hits, including six triples, he has come out of the gate this year with a very similar pace. He projects to be more of a doubles-power type of guy than a big time over-the-fence contributor, but with on-base value he also brings to the table, the Rays could be looking at a legitimate three-hole hitter going forward. In 2016 he did post a 21.1% K rate, but supplemented that with a 13.1% walk rate and .372 OBP over 563 plate Double-A plate appearances. He is off the strikeout and walks pace by a few percentage points so far in 2017, but as a 21-year-old in Triple-A, taking a beat to make adjustments isn’t unreasonable. Last week versus Gwinnett, Adames showed his aggressive approach in the zone, and while he did expand a few times, he put up a couple good at-bats and showed ability to do damage to all fields. On the dirt, it is clear that the Rays have no plans to move him off of shortstop – and for good reason. He has a 60-grade arm and plus agility on balls hit to either side. He isn’t an overly-twitchy athlete and the ease of operation can sometimes fool you into thinking he isn’t that fast – but he has a good first step, the hands are plus, and he has very good body control.
Adames will have to continue to refine his approach at the plate and get more consistent with being selective in the strike zone. He has the tools to be an above-average contributor on both sides of the baseball, so even though he is at Triple-A already, it isn’t a stretch to think that Tampa will leave him there for most, if not all of the 2017 season. If he performs and continues to adjust to the competition, expect to see him opening day 2018 as the starting shortstop at the Trop. – Dave DeFreitas