Cubs

How the Dylan Cease deal came together and may have given Cubs a future ace

How the Dylan Cease deal came together and may have given Cubs a future ace

It will take years to do a full accounting of Kyle Schwarber’s impact on this franchise. The Cubs believe this is just the beginning of a long runway, and Schwarber might have already helped them land their future ace.

While Schwarber rocketed from college kid to World Series legend within two-and-a-half years, Dylan Cease is just beginning his climb at Class-A South Bend as the organization’s brightest pitching prospect. 

[CubsTalk Podcast: Jason McLeod on Ian Happ, Dylan Cease and MLB Draft]

Those two players will be intertwined, because without Schwarber envisioning his future in Chicago and taking a below-slot deal as the No. 4 overall pick in 2014, the Cubs don’t have the same money or appetite to gamble on Cease, giving a sixth-round pick a $1.5 million bonus before his Tommy John surgery.

“You had a kid that had been scouted by the whole industry the prior year,” Jason McLeod said on this week’s Cubs Talk podcast. “He was on the showcase circuit in the summer and certainly he was no secret to anybody. He went into that 2014 draft as a potential first-round selection, just because the arm strength was so big and he had already been in the lower-to-mid 90s the year prior. Then the injury happens with the elbow.

“With a kid who’s really talented, you never want to lose track.”

McLeod, the senior vice president who oversees scouting and player development, credited area scout Keith Lockhart, who covers Georgia and played 10 years in the big leagues, for doing the background work. Right-handed high school pitchers might be the most difficult group to project, and Cease already had a medical file and the leverage from his college commitment to a prestigious program. 

“Typically, those Vanderbilt kids are tough to sign anyway,” McLeod said. “It would have been really easy to say: Well, gosh, he’s hurt. He’s not going to pitch for two years. He can just go to Vandy and get one year of school out of the way and then concentrate on baseball and concentrate on his rehab. You could have completely understood if that was what borne out there.

“But through conversations with ‘Locky’ – and him getting to know the family – it became apparent that this is a kid who may actually want to go out and sign and go through a professional rehab process.”

Around the same time, Cubs officials developed a man crush on Schwarber, who led Indiana to the 2013 College World Series and developed into a two-time All-American. But there were enough questions about his defense and athleticism – as a catcher or an outfielder – that Schwarber’s camp thought he might drop to the San Diego Padres at No. 13. A National League official thought the Colorado Rockies might have had interest in Schwarber with the eighth overall pick.  

“Kyle knew we liked him, of course,” McLeod said. “But I think when you’re looking at yourself as a player – and where you think you might go in the draft – conversations start happening there. It became apparent that it was like a perfect marriage. We really wanted him. I think he really loved the organization.

“All of those things lined up perfectly, and Kyle wanted to get out and play. That was another major factor. So when you’re able to select a player and have those conversations about what you feel the signing parameters would be, it became apparent to all of us involved that we were going to be able to save some money and spread it around and go look for talented players (who) we may not have been able to (bring in) otherwise.

“Using all that information, understanding that Dylan Cease was a kid who wasn’t going to be able to pitch until the following summer – just a few innings – you have to weigh what the talent and the upside is there and how much of the information was true and correct.”

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Schwarber signed for $3.125 million, or almost $1.5 million below the recommended slot that year. While Schwarber blasted playoff homers into the Allegheny River and onto a Wrigley Field video board and defied the medical odds to make a World Series comeback, Cease threw less than 70 innings combined during his first two seasons in professional baseball.

At Cubs Convention in January, McLeod told an audience interested in what’s next that “the reins were off” Cease, promising that “the kid gloves were going to come off” in 2017.

“The biggest thing from a development standpoint for him is just harnessing the emotions a little bit,” McLeod said. “He’s so excited to be out of Arizona, out of the complex and short-season leagues. And now (you have) to understand: Hey, every outing, even if I don’t have a great outing from a line-score perspective, what can I take from this? What can I take into the next outing?

“Yeah, if you just look at his stat line right now, the walks are higher than he would like. The walks are higher than we would like. When you’ve got a mid-to-upper 90s heater, you’re not always going to have great command of it early in your career.

“So that’s a focus for him, the fastball command. His curveball’s been pretty good to start the season, which we’re all happy about. But I think it’s always the incorporation of the secondary pitches for strikes and just harnessing his emotion right now.”

Cease, 21, entered this season at No. 77 and No. 97 on the MLB.com and Baseball America prospect lists. He’s posted a 2.23 ERA through seven starts with the South Bend Cubs, piling up 50 strikeouts against 17 walks in 32-plus innings.

Young pitchers are so fragile. That’s why the Cubs built their franchise around hitters. But Cease will be given the chance to show he’s worth the investment.

“I’d love to be sitting with him in September at the exit interview looking back on his year,” McLeod said, “and he made all of his starts and he got better as the year went on. Not in terms of velocity, not necessarily in terms of strikeout rates or anything like that, but how he used his pitches and how he was attacking hitters. And not just going out trying to overpower everybody, even though he has that kind of stuff.” 

Jon Lester's soccer career and other things to know about Cubs left-hander

Jon Lester's soccer career and other things to know about Cubs left-hander

Jon Lester is the best free agent addition in Cubs history, the guy who joined a last place club and helped push them to perennial contender status. He played a big part in the Cubs snapping their World Series drought, and even at 36 remains a durable, competitive starter.

Here’s a few things you may not know about the Cubs’ left-hander.

1. While playing in a soccer tournament in Italy at the age of 13, an Italian club approached Lester about playing professionally. He turned it down and the Red Sox drafted him five years later.

2. In August 2006, two months after making his MLB debut, Lester was diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He underwent chemotherapy in the 2006-07 offseason and returned to the Red Sox in July 2007.

3. Lester’s charity, NVRQT, works to raise awareness and funds to fight pediatric cancer. Lester was the Cubs’ 2019 Robert Clemente Award nominee for his charitable efforts.

4. In 2011, Lester was featured on a wine label produced by Longball Cellars. Proceeds from “CabernAce” benefited the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

5. Lester, an avid golfer, once shot an 81 at Augusta National, according to Golf Digest.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago

 

Anthony Rizzo has no regrets over signing bargain extension in 2013

Anthony Rizzo has no regrets over signing bargain extension in 2013

Back in 2013, the Cubs locked up a 23-year-old Anthony Rizzo on a seven-year, $41 million extension — with two options that could make it nine years for $74 million.

Rizzo is a cancer survivor, and gaining financial stability was a big thing for him. Seven years later, the deal is one of the best in baseball from a team perspective, but incredibly below market value overall.

However, the big first baseman, who’s emerged as a cornerstone for the Cubs, has no regrets over his decision.

“I’ve had the freedom from 22, 23 years old to financially do whatever I want and play freely,” Rizzo told NBC Sports Chicago’s Gordon Wittenmyer. “And I’m going to be able to do financially whatever I want for the rest of my life as long as I don’t make poor choices.

“At the end of this contract, it’ll make a lot of money, and I’m playing the game I love.”

The Cubs shut down extension talks with Rizzo over the winter, and he said it never got to the point of discussing any numbers. He has “no idea” what the Cubs’ thinking was on shutting down those talks, too.

The two sides will likely talk extension again in the future, but until then, the Cubs have Rizzo on an absolute bargain of a deal.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.