Dylan Cease and his “very sexy mustache” are not on the AL All-Star team.
Though that probably won’t be the case for long.
Baseball’s All-Star snubs are typically only briefly a topic of conversation, as injuries and guys deciding not to play in the Midsummer Classic for whatever reason usually get anyone who truly belonged there to the game.
Such could likely be the case for Cease, who was left off the roster when it was announced Sunday afternoon.
I’m not one to suggest that any player was wrongfully put on the All-Star team, and certainly there are other pitchers who did make the initial roster who were very much deserving.
But make no mistake: Cease has been an All-Star level pitcher for the White Sox this season.
The question isn’t whether he belongs on this year’s All-Star team or not. It’s how many of these things he’ll make by the end of his career.
And whether a litany of All-Star appearances will even be the top line on his final resume.
“I think the ceiling for him is multiple Cy Young Awards,” Lucas Giolito told CHGO back in May. “He has some of the best stuff in baseball.”
If Cease pitches in the second half the way he’s pitched in the first, he’ll gain serious consideration in the AL Cy Young vote at the end of this season.
He’s often been downright electric and has recorded double-digit strikeouts in four different starts, including a career best 13 of them against the Orioles to cap a June in which he allowed only one earned run in 27.1 innings. Strikeouts have been the most impressive part of his game, with 133 of them to rank third in baseball. Strangely, he has walked more batters than any other qualified starting pitcher in the game, but he simultaneously leads the sport with 13.0 strikeouts per nine innings, too.
Mentioning Cease as a future Cy Young type is nothing new for his White Sox teammates. Yasmani Grandal was doing it during spring training back in 2021, in the wake of a shortened 2020 season that saw Cease struggle mightily. Working with first-year pitching coach Ethan Katz, who helped engineer Giolito’s career turnaround, Cease had a breakout 2021 campaign. Now, taking the next steps this year, Grandal’s prediction is looking pretty good.
“It’s funny because every time I say something to you guys, it kind of happens,” Grandal said last week. “I told you guys last year (during the season-opening road trip) in Seattle you hadn’t seen the best of Carlos Rodón. Not to say that some of you guys laughed, but I’m sure some of you thought I was slightly crazy. And then all of a sudden, Rodón became Rodón.
“I’ve been saying that about Cease. He’s got the type of stuff that could be special. He’s made huge strides from the first year I got here to now.”
That “stuff” of Cease’s has been on constant display throughout the year. Despite a brief moment after he first busted out a changeup that is a ludicrous 20 miles an hour slower than his fastball – Katz described it as “a Bugs Bunny pitch” in May in Kansas City – the star of Cease’s arsenal has been a devastating slider that is helping him rack up the strikeouts, a whopping 73 of them on that pitch alone.
Heck, it might just be the most effective pitch in baseball. That’s what some of the stats say, anyway.
“He’s throwing it for strikes, and he’s also putting away lefties and righties with it,” Reese McGuire told CHGO this weekend. “I’ve definitely seen him just continue to grow confidence in his slider. Some of the best pitchers in the game, they have an elite slider, and he’s for sure up there. When he’s punching out upwards of 10 guys a game with one pitch, it’s pretty impressive.”
“He’s up there with the top echelon of starting pitchers,” Tony La Russa said after Cease’s 13-strikeout game against the Orioles. “He also has that fastball that is hard to get on. And he’s got a curveball. More and more using that changeup. It’s the whole arsenal that gets guys in between.”
Again, Cease’s stuff has been a talking point for a long time. It’s sometimes difficult to remember that he’s been part of the White Sox organization for five years now and has been pitching in the majors for three, even though 2021 was his first full season as a big league starter, thanks to the pandemic shortening the 2020 campaign.
That stuff, though, has finally been matched by Cease’s ability to pitch, not just throw, and that’s what has elevated him to the level of deserving to be an All Star and someone warranting Cy Young consideration. It’s all part of an ongoing development that could make Cease not just a key to a White Sox turnaround this year but championship contention in the years to come.
“He’s definitely taking some big steps. And what’s exciting is there’s still more steps to be had,” Katz said in May. “That’s kind of expected. He’s still a young pitcher. He had a great year last year, he’s off to a great start right now, but there’s still things we’re trying to refine, trying to get consistent. But he’s growing every day, his confidence is growing every day, which is ultimately the biggest thing.
“Last year, we tried getting him to understand, ‘This is where we want to go, this is what you do well.’ He knows that. Game planning against a team, he will talk about hitters a lot more. ‘This is what I’ve done. … This is how I want to attack him, and I think I can probably do this.’ Stuff like that that in the past it’d be, ‘We’re going to run the meeting,’ and he would just kind of take everything in. Now he’s much more involved, he has his own ideas, he’s able to come in the dugout and talk about what he saw on the mound.
“It’s just the maturity and the growing of experience that a lot of veteran guys will talk about, and he’s starting to get to that point.”
Cease and the rest of the White Sox’ starting staff, which has generally been pretty good this season, will be among the biggest keys to a second-half turnaround, to achieving the championship-level goals this team set for itself in the spring. While the South Side offense needs to find consistency in a bad way, the rotation can do an awful lot to make this happen, and through three-plus months, Cease is the best starting pitcher on the staff.
“We definitely hold ourselves to a higher standard than what we’ve been playing at,” Cease said after his outing against the Tigers last week. “At the end of the day, we are going to keep putting in the work. There’s still a lot of season left.
“I wouldn’t count us out of it yet.”
Just like you shouldn’t count Cease out of the All-Star Game quite yet, either.
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