Dylan Cease was one of the few things that went very, very right for the White Sox in 2022.
But aside from the righty turning in a breakout campaign that earned him a second-place finish in the AL Cy Young vote, just about everything else went very, very wrong.
Cease, though, sees what the front office sees, the team’s fortunes turning around even with much of the same roster in place.
“I think we’re a lot better than what we showed last year,” Cease said in an interview with CHGO. “I think we all know that we have the talent. That’s undeniable. … If we execute, if we can play like we know we can play, then I think the sky’s the limit. And everyone thinks that, as well.
“It’s a matter of molding it and making it happen. We have power, we’ve got great pitching. We have a lot of positives to work with now. We’ve just got to make it happen.”
Fans will likely take some more convincing than simply hearing the confidence emanating from the home clubhouse at 35th and Shields. But Cease isn’t wrong in suggesting the White Sox still have the best roster in the AL Central and a roster with some of the highest potential in the game, even after a disappointing .500 finish and no playoff appearance in 2022.
Outside of a couple notable additions – free agents Andrew Benintendi and Mike Clevinger – the White Sox have mostly put their faith in a new manager and a new coaching staff to get the bulk of a still-promising core back on track. Pedro Grifol is still a month away from welcoming these players to his first big league spring training as a skipper, but he’s already reached out to try to build the relationships he voiced as being so important during his introductory press conference.
“I had a nice 20- or 30-minute conversation with him relatively close to when we signed him, and he basically just said that with him, communication’s huge, (that) we’re going to have a relationship,” Cease said of his interactions with Grifol. “And it wasn’t even that much about baseball. ‘I want to get to know you, we’re going to have a relationship. Really, away from baseball even, I want to get to know you.’ That was the biggest thing.
“And then I recently had a guy come up to me where I train, and he said, ‘Hey man, I wish we hired that guy as our manager. I love that guy.’ I’ve definitely heard a lot of good things about him.
“From what I’ve heard, I think the communication is going to be good and what he’s trying to preach and what he’s trying to communicate is going to be good. … I think we’re all going to work together, and I think he’ll bring some positive change here, for sure.”
Any return to the kind of results we saw from this group in 2020 and 2021 will rely on Cease and the White Sox’ starting rotation, of course. Cease shouted out the Clevinger signing and Lucas Giolito’s work to bounce back from his personally disappointing 2022. As for what Cease has brewing, he’s working on his changeup and is promising higher velocity numbers from that pitch.
But even that’s more of a springtime project. This offseason, Cease has been Cease, doing all the off-the-field stuff that endeared him to fans over the last couple years. He’s hoping better weather will allow him to check in on his dad’s honeybees. And he spent a memorable few days in a disc golf tournament in Florida that featured a few unexpected participants.
“I played in a tournament in South Florida with my buddy, Paul, and his brother,” Cease said. “It was great. It had a lot of water and iguanas and monkeys and all this crazy stuff. Just a random park in South Florida. That course was really cool.”
“Yeah, monkeys. We had heard about them, and we didn’t see them until Day 3. The last day, they were on the ground by the parking lot. Everyone was freaking out. It was pretty funny.
“Honestly, if a monkey took my disc, I think I would just have to chalk it up to fate.”
There’s an awful lot of that fate thing that went into the White Sox’ faceplant in 2022, of course. The team was ravaged by injuries, and even though that’s not the only thing that happened, you can’t discount the influence of consistently poor health. Every prognostication for a better result in 2023 contains the big “if” of the team staying healthy and its most important players staying off the IL.
But there’s a lot of non-fate things that will have to happen, too, if the White Sox want to get back to the top of the division and keep the Guardians’ tenure as kings of the Central to just one year.
“The things they do, they’re pretty fundamentally sound and they really try hard,” Cease said of the division rivals from Northeast Ohio. “It’s a big hustle team, and if anything, I think we’ve got to match that.”
That’s what Grifol called out in his introductory press conference back in November, talking about all those intangibles that fans thought disappeared last season. If it all works out, if the White Sox can finally play to their potential, then it will be no shock to see more postseason baseball on the South Side.
You’ll remember that Cease started the White Sox’ lone playoff win in the last 14 years, Game 3 of that ALDS against the Astros that featured the wild “blackout” atmosphere.
He wants to experience that again.
“Very excited, very hungry,” Cease said of wanting to get back to October. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t super polished my first go-around, so I want another shot at it with much more experience and this new level of ability that I feel like I have.
“My first go-around, it was one of the coolest experiences. However many people were at Guaranteed Rate that day, it was so electric. I was throwing 101 purely because of the fans giving me adrenaline, which was incredible.
“I want another go-around where I actually know how to control myself and how to focus and how to fill up the strike zone with my secondary (pitches), all that stuff that I didn’t really have a great ability to do in my first go-around.”