MESA, Ariz. -- As part of MLBPipeline.com's visit to all 30 Spring Training facilities, we'll be sitting down with prospects and getting to know them a little better. At Cubs camp, it was No. 4 prospect Dylan Cease. Considered a possible first-round pick in the 2014 Draft as a Georgia
MESA, Ariz. -- As part of MLBPipeline.com's visit to all 30 Spring Training facilities, we'll be sitting down with prospects and getting to know them a little better. At Cubs camp, it was No. 4 prospect Dylan Cease.
Considered a possible first-round pick in the 2014 Draft as a Georgia high schooler, Cease saw that possibility end when he injured his elbow in March. Though they knew he'd require Tommy John surgery, the Cubs still drafted him in the sixth round and paid him $1.5 million to get him to give up a Vanderbilt commitment. They have brought the 21-year-old right-hander along slowly -- he has yet to reach full-season ball or pitch more than five innings in a game -- but plan to turn their best pitching prospect loose in 2017.
MLBPipeline.com: You already pitched at Wrigley Field a year before you got drafted, as part of the 2013 Under Armour All-America Game. I remember you hitting 94 mph with your fastball. What do you remember about that day?
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Cease: I remember leaving that game and talking to my dad. We thought it would be really cool if I would play there again someday. I did all right in the game. My curveball wasn't very sharp.
MLBPipeline.com: After you hurt your elbow, what did you think was going to happen with the Draft?
Cease: When I got hurt, I didn't worry about where I was going to go in the Draft. I kind of focused on being in high school. I definitely thought I would have gone to Vanderbilt, but I was prepared to sign as well if someone met my amount. After the first day, I didn't really hear anything and didn't know much. The Cubs called me in the third round and told me they were going to take me in the sixth round. I didn't hear from a lot of teams -- the Astros maybe. I think the money was a concern with a lot of clubs.
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MLBPipeline.com: How confident were you that you'd be able to make a full recovery from Tommy John surgery, and how good do you feel about where your stuff is now?
Cease: I didn't think it was 100 percent that I'd come back, so it made me work harder. It was a solid year before I really got back to where I was. By my first game back, I had put on 25-30 pounds and cleaned up my mechanics. I was thinking I might throw in the low 90s, and when I heard it was 98, 99 mph, it made me excited. It made me feel the 10 months of rehab was worth it.
MLBPipeline.com: You haven't pitched a ton yet in pro ball, but how much better do you think you've gotten since joining the Cubs?
Cease: I have better mechanics, my body moves more efficiently. I'm more flexible and stronger. I have intent with my pitches now instead of just throwing hard. I'm trying to be a pitcher. I can't even put it on a scale -- I'm so much better. I didn't feel like I was very consistent in high school with my curveball, and now every time I feel comfortable it's going to do what it's supposed to. Obviously, that's not going to happen every time. I didn't throw a changeup in high school and now I'm confident with it. I feel like I'm on the verge of really getting that locked down.
MLBPipeline.com: The Cubs have handled you with extreme care since you signed, limiting you to 68 2/3 innings in your first two pro seasons. Has it been difficult to deal with wanting to do more?
Cease: It hasn't been that tough. There's an intention behind everything, a reason for it. I've got to crawl before I walk, and it's given me time to learn my body and mechanics. I think I'm in a really good position to be the pitcher I can be. I'm learning to spot up my pitches and throw my offspeed stuff. I didn't really question any of it. I've trusted the Cubs. This year I'll be a real pitcher now. I'm very excited, ready to go.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter.