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.