The White Sox could use some starting pitching.
In this week’s brief two-game set with the visiting Washington Nationals, the South Siders will start Odrisamer Despaigne and Manny Banuelos, hardly the guys you’d expect to be starting in the thick of a playoff race.
Of course, the White Sox aren’t expected to be in a playoff race when the season gets down to its final days, even if they did wake up Monday morning just three games out of the second wild card spot in the American League. Stranger things have happened, sure, and there are plenty of positives surrounding this team. But the rebuild is still very much in progress, and the White Sox might just be a year away from mounting a serious postseason push.
That reality, however, won’t make a dwindling number of healthy White Sox starting pitchers any less frustrating to watch for fans — the ones not named Lucas Giolito, anyway — nor will it make the loyal legions cease impatiently questioning why the team hasn’t brought its highly touted pitching prospect up from the minor leagues.
Dylan Cease has a 4.10 ERA down at Charlotte, and even if things didn’t go so hot in Sunday’s start, he’s one of the highest rated pitching prospects in baseball. With the White Sox turning to Despaigne and Banuelos as injuries have devastated their starting rotation, fans keep wondering why Cease hasn’t been called upon to plug the holes. The answer won’t make those questioners happy, but it’s the truth as the White Sox continue to keep their sights on the next 10 years rather than the next four months.
“As I've said all along, he's not going to come here necessarily because there's a need in Chicago,” general manager Rick Hahn said Monday, “he's going to come here because it's the next step in his development and we feel like he's put himself in the position to succeed, not just survive. He's not too far away. We're getting closer.
“It's a matter of them achieving everything that we set out for them at the given level, whether it's a promotion from A ball to Double-A, like you just saw with Nick Madrigal, or a promotion to the big leagues, as you saw us do with Eloy (Jimenez) and, last year, Michael Kopech.
“We want these guys to be positioned to succeed, to not have to go back, have success when they get here and be able to build off that success for an extended period of time. If that's a matter of waiting another two, three, five, six starts, so be it.
“We're not going to rush these guys.”
White Sox fans should be familiar with this explanation, one Hahn delivered repeatedly throughout the 2018 season in regard to Kopech and Jimenez. But that familiarity hasn’t done anything to alter their patience levels when it comes to Cease, who is getting the same treatment that Kopech and Jimenez did last year from a certain segment of the Twitter-using fan base: They want him up here yesterday.
Now, the White Sox are much better than they were during last year’s 100-loss campaign, which at the very least could explain a belief that Cease would get this team closer to the postseason in 2019. And, Cease has largely avoided the kinds of ugly performances that Kopech turned in for a stretch last season, a bump in the road that he got past to earn his eventual big league promotion. With fewer apparent negatives in the results, fans and observers can more easily ask “what more does this guy have to do?”
But that’s the thing. The White Sox are looking at a lot more than just what shows up in the box score.
“These aren't finished products,” Hahn said. “You read a stat line, you see what they've been doing. A lot more goes into it than just that. But he's a good one and he's getting close.”
One of the things that might have gotten Cease closer to the major leagues was the less-than-ideal start he turned in Sunday, when he got just two outs — and gave up four runs on three walks and a couple hits — before exiting in the first inning. That’s obviously not what fans want to see from the prized prospect, but it’s the kind of learning experience that could get him closer to completing his minor league development.
“Yesterday's start, he was starting Game 2 of a doubleheader. My understanding is that his preparation was affected a little by that in between games,” Hahn said. “Came in and wasn't quite fully ready and didn't have his best stuff. And they made the decision to pull him out when they saw the way the outing was trending.
“Frankly, it's actually a really good developmental day for Dylan Cease yesterday. He learned a lot about what he needs to do in those situations, and he's a smart enough kid that he's going to learn from it.”
And so to those asking “what are they waiting for?” they’re waiting for that, for Cease to go through all the necessary stages of his minor league development. This is a pitcher who didn’t throw above Double-A last season.
But it’s also worth driving home that Cease is not needed at the big league level right now, even if the White Sox have exhausted their starting-pitching depth. He’s needed at the big league level in 2020 and 2021 and 2022 and beyond. The White Sox won’t be calling up Cease early to win a few more games in 2019. Because they want him to win a whole bunch of games in the seasons that follow.