Positive offseason signs for confident Cease

December 11th, 2020

CHICAGO -- provided a very real and honest perspective when asked about his 2020 season. Real and honest, but with great hope for the immediate future.

“I consider it to be bad,” Cease said. “I competed so there’s that. But yeah, I wasn’t happy with it. ... Last season was pretty disappointing for me, but I’m not going into 2021 with a negative attitude by any means. I’m looking forward to it.”

Cease, who slotted in third or fourth after Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, finished 5-4 with a 4.01 ERA over 12 starts and 58 1/3 innings in 2020. It was the 24-year-old’s second season in the Majors, but he has yet to make a full season’s worth of starts, with just 26 combined.

So, there’s nothing but development ahead for the right-hander whose 97.5 mph average four-seamer velocity ranked him fifth highest in 2020, per Statcast. Cease already has begun work with new pitching coach Ethan Katz, starting with a 40-minute talk during the first week Katz was hired.

They believe a great deal of Cease’s struggles were related to his lower half.

“Just pretty much not utilizing it correctly,” Cease said. “If you are not using your lower half correctly, everything else is going to be off.”

“We've all seen the flashes of what his stuff is capable of doing when it's all aligned,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. “And quite frankly, I'm excited to see him after a period of time working with Ethan Katz and seeing where that leads us.”

Doing drills with the core velocity belt, a tool adeptly employed by Giolito, is just one of the changes that Cease and Katz have discussed.

“Ethan is very analytical and up to date with all the new technology,” said Cease, who also praised the work done with Don Cooper, the previous White Sox pitching coach since 2002. “He’s got a lot of ideas and he’s got a track record. Those two things right there make it very exciting.

“He sent me video. As soon as I get core velocity, I’ll be FaceTiming him. There’s a pretty good chance I’m going to go out to him at some point this offseason so he can be a little more hands on and I can work with him in person.”

Fastball command became Cease’s biggest issue in 2020, as he ranked second in the Majors with 34 walks against 44 strikeouts, and he had an especially rough finish to the season by allowing 14 earned runs on 19 hits and 16 walks over 22 1/3 innings in five September starts. Cease had a particularly strange outing on Sept. 20 in Cincinnati, in that he didn’t allow a hit and struck out five over three-plus innings and 80 pitches, but he also walked seven, hit a batter and yielded three earned runs in a 7-3 loss.

It was the sort of finish erasing Cease from the possibility of a Game 3 start in the American League Wild Card Series in Oakland.

“At the end of the day, if you don’t know where the ball is going, it’s not a great feeling,” Cease said. “So, in those moments, I’m just competing and trying to focus and do the best I can.

“You have to be realistic. I can’t have a start like those and just be happy and pleased with it. I know I have to execute my pitches and I have to find a way to do that. I try to take that objective view of it. Just really try to figure out what I have to do to improve. I’m excited to work with Ethan and figure out some solutions.”

The acquisition of Lance Lynn takes pressure off young starters such as Cease, Michael Kopech and even Reynaldo López. Cease certainly has the stuff to excel, but he'll be working to find the execution to optimize his mound work.

“The kid's got a great arsenal,” Hahn said. “If we were so inclined to put him out there, he'd be a very popular trade target because the industry sees very similar to what we see. We look forward to him developing as a White Sox here over the coming months and years.”

“This offseason is really important for me. Like I said, I’m not super thrilled with last year’s performance so I plan on putting in work,” Cease said. “Really, it comes down to just executing and being able to throw my pitches for strikes. I’ve got the pitches. I’ve got the stuff. Now, it’s just molding it and using it.”