Dylan Cease

As Noah Syndergaard heads for Tommy John, White Sox are thankful those days are behind them


As Noah Syndergaard heads for Tommy John, White Sox are thankful those days are behind them

The only thing that seems to be happening in baseball right now? Some of the best pitchers in the world are headed for Tommy John surgery.

Last week, former White Sox ace and current Boston Red Sox lefty Chris Sale joined the lengthy list of hurlers who need the procedure, and this time, it’s New York Mets star Noah Syndergaard.

With the 2020 season a complete and total unknown, there's a silver lining for pitchers slated to miss the next year of baseball due to Tommy John: No one is playing baseball for the time being. So while a year of their prime is still lost, at least they won’t miss as many games as they normally would have. Their absences will be less impactful on their teams’ chances at winning a championship.

But as we glance over at the White Sox rotation, you’ll notice that most of these pitchers have already had the surgery.

Michael Kopech is ready to return from his lengthy Tommy John absence. Carlos Rodon along with pitching prospects Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert will be good to go at some point this season, too. Lucas Giolito already had Tommy John surgery. And so has Dylan Cease.

While it’s not unheard of for pitchers to undergo a second Tommy John surgery or to be waylaid by another serious injury (just ask Rodon, who had shoulder surgery at the end of the 2017 season), the White Sox can certainly add this to the list of reasons the future looks so bright. Their young fireballers have been through these long recoveries already.

Take the Mets, who had plans to compete for a championship in 2020. And why wouldn’t they? They have some impressive young hitters, like reigning NL Rookie of the Year Pete Alonso, and a menacing 1-2-3 in the rotation with Jacob de Grom, Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman. But now, Syndergaard won’t pitch at all in 2020, and that pokes a pretty huge hole in the team’s ability to compete.

To make matters worse for New York, Syndergaard is only under team control for another two seasons. And if his recovery extends into 2021 (as Passan hinted it could), that turns a two-year window for the Mets to capitalize on Syndergaard into as little as a few months.

In the case of the White Sox, they’re looking at a four-year window in which they’ll control Giolito, Kopech and Cease. Kopech is under team control for five years, Cease for six, and the clocks haven’t even started on Dunning and Lambert yet. And every single one of those pitchers has a Tommy John surgery in the rear-view.

Obviously, the hope would be that no player ever needs Tommy John surgery. But for the White Sox, the silver lining here is that they have a long period of time in which they control young, hard-throwing pitchers who are already over the Tommy John hump. Which means it’s way less likely that the injury will derail a potential World Series-caliber season.

Anything can happen, but the White Sox should be extremely relieved that they'll likely be able to keep their contention window open for as long as it’s contractually scheduled to be.

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Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease, Nick Madrigal and Zack Burdi take the arcade by storm

Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease, Nick Madrigal and Zack Burdi take the arcade by storm

Spring training takes away the travel that baseball players have to deal with during the regular season, which means they have plenty of free time.

Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease, Zack Burdi and Nick Madrigal used some of that free time at a Dave & Buster’s in Arizona for an arcade Olympics and NBC Sports Chicago was there to film it. Chuck Garfien hosted the competition and things got heated. Turns out professional athletes are very competitive.

The banter was classic with four-player pong, racing games, basketball, air hockey and plenty more.

Dylan Cease struggled and Lucas Giolito was able to get a cheap shot in.

“I don’t think he meditated enough this morning,” Giolito said of Cease.

Watch the video above to see all the arcade fun with the members of the White Sox.

White Sox need Dylan Cease to put the growing pains behind him in 2020

White Sox need Dylan Cease to put the growing pains behind him in 2020

Dylan Cease’s first taste of the majors in 2019 was just that: a first step.

But if the White Sox are going to meet their expectations of contention in 2020, he’ll need to take the next step.

Cease is one of a host of young arms the White Sox view as having top-of-the-rotation potential, and certainly his dominant minor league season in 2018 was tantalizing. But his first 14 starts of big league ball featured the kinds of growing pains that aren’t at all unexpected from someone facing major league hitters for the first time, and the results weren’t pretty: a 5.79 ERA in 73 big league innings and a less than desirable 4.3 BB/9.

But White Sox fans know better than to make snap judgments at this point, especially when it comes to these young pitchers, after watching Lucas Giolito transform from the starting pitcher with the worst statistics in baseball to an All Star last season.

Could 2020 see a similar jump for Cease? Giolito doesn’t think that gigantic of jump is necessary, talking even last season about how Cease is further along than he ever was thanks to Cease’s at times electric stuff.

But ask people what Cease needs to do to reach his potential, and a theme emerges.

“The biggest thing that we wanted for Dylan to continue to improve would have to be the command,” manager Rick Renteria said during the early days of spring training, “to be able to be as efficient as possible. We've seen tremendous growth in a lot of the guys. And I think he's not far from being able to get himself in a position where he's efficient and keeps himself out there for an extended period of time during a ballgame.”

“Last year, he’d kind of get into trouble by kind of falling behind early, walking too many guys,” Giolito said, “kind of your standard power-righty issues that you run into when you first get to the league. I think he’s going to settle down a little bit, and it’ll be pretty good.”

Giolito has gone full mentor with Cease, something that was apparent well before the White Sox front office stocked the rotation with a couple veteran arms this winter. During Cease’s 14-start foray into the majors last season, Giolito was a constant presence, spotted routinely chatting with Cease in the dugout between innings. That relationship was in a similar stage this spring.

For folks hoping for a Giolito-style jump from Cease, know that he’s got the guy who knows what it takes in his ear.

“I think a big part of that (growth) is just a comfort thing, being comfortable with that daily routine in the big leagues, getting experience, not going out there wide-eyed but going out there with an extremely high level of confidence in yourself,” Giolito said. “Most of that does come with experience, and he got a lot of experience last year at the big league level. Struggled a bit, but I think he learned a lot and took some of those lessons into the offseason.

“He looks really good right now. I think that he’s made some good adjustments with the way he’s releasing the ball, being behind it, all the analytical stuff. Overall, just getting that experience was very valuable for him last year.

“Organization-wide, I think we’re all ready to really start putting things together, and I think he’s right there.”

Few players on this roster hold as much of the 2020 team’s fate in their hands as Cease does. Along with fellow starting pitcher Reynaldo Lopez, the two are perhaps the biggest mysteries on the team and the most impactful. If they put their growing pains and inconsistencies behind them, the White Sox could boast a formidable starting staff that could power a march to October. If they continue to see the kinds of results they did last season — Lopez’s ERA was right there with Cease’s, at 5.38 — then it will be a legitimate question whether the White Sox have enough starting pitching to make a run at a playoff spot.

Of course, there’s plenty of confidence that Cease will be able to reach that top-of-the-rotation potential. That stuff is still impressive. And his major league experience is limited to just 14 games, some of which featured stellar efforts. An 11-strikeout night in Cleveland in early September was emblematic of his 2019: a strong performance overshadowed by a bad stretch of batters that ended with a crooked number on the board.

But no one inside the White Sox organization has anything but the utmost confidence in Cease moving forward. Considering the transformations Giolito and Yoan Moncada made after early growing pains in their own big league careers, there’s little reason to doubt that Cease could do it, too.

“The fact that I’ve gone out there and I’ve had games where I was able to do really well, had wins and all that, it just shows I can do it,” Cease said. “The biggest thing is just the confidence booster.”

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