I was on hand to watch Cease July 5, in wet conditions against Everett. The former sixth-round pick from 2014, who garnered a well-above-slot $1.5 million bonus to sign with the Cubs after Tommy John surgery deflated his draft value from his projected first-round potential, Cease had early trouble establishing his fastball, and he was lit up for four straight hits in the first inning. He settled in after that and wound up going five full innings, allowing just those four hits while giving up two runs, walking two and striking out four. The command issues aside, it was good to see his competitiveness come out, recovering to getting hitters out on a night he didn’t have his best stuff, nor the best command of his fastball.
Cease has lean frame, and the body is still under-developed, but given his age he should fill out, and the added strength should help his durability over the long haul. He has a fairly repeatable delivery thanks to his athleticism, but on this night he struggled to find his release point, something that I attribute more to the weather conditions than some mechanical flaw. The weather also seemed to affect his ability to grip the ball. His arm action was short, compact and clean, coming from a high three-quarters arm slot. Cease exerts moderate effort in his delivery, and finishes in an athletic fielding position, showing that athleticism on pickoff moves to first, and also when fielding a bunt.
The fastball consistently sat 95-to-97 mph, (T98), and he was able to maintain his velo throughout the outing, which is certainly a benchmark that the Cubs want to see given the T.J. surgery. The fastball flashed some arm-side run on the outer half of the plate, as well as some sink when thrown in the lower third of the zone. The sink was due to him pulling down more with his core, and also from a release point that got more out front at times. His command should improve as he continues to build innings, arm strength, and confidence as the year progresses.
His curveball sat 76-to-78 mph (T82 once), but it lacked consistent break and had some loopy shape up in the zone, which again could be because of the weather. He did snap off four to five curveballs that had solid 12-to-6 break landing in the dirt, perhaps previewing the pitch as a solid putaway. He’s only 21.2 innings into the season and has thrown just 45.2 as a pro, so I would expect his curveball shape and command to improve as he eats more innings and builds it into his repertoire more frequently.
He only threw the changeup twice, and neither was near the zone, but it displayed solid velocity separation from the fastball, coming in around 85 mph, though it’s very much a work-in-progress third offering. The change is going to need to be developed fully for him to stay as a starter, but he is still just 20 years old, so there is plenty of time to iron out both of his secondaries and sequencing so his double-plus fastball can be a more effective weapon.
For now, it’s a fastball-dominated approach, and that’s probably just fine with the Cubs’ front office at this stage of his development. There’s no reason to think the Cubs won’t let him stretch out his innings into the 50-60 range this year, looking for him to refine his command and develop his secondary offerings while simply staying healthy for the full season as the primary benchmarks for a successful 2016.