CHARLOTTE – Top Chicago White Sox prospect Dylan Cease arrived in town this week to begin the season with the Triple-A Charlotte Knights, but the right-handed pitcher could be repacking his suitcase in the very near future.
Baseball America rates the 6-foot-2 200-pound Cease as the No. 3 overall prospect and the No. 2 pitcher in the White Sox’s farm system and the Milton, Ga. native is expected to be called up to Chicago sooner rather than later.
The Knights opened the season on April 4 at BB&T Ballpark.
Cease was spectacular last season while pitching for High-A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham, compiling an overall 12-2 record with a 2.40 ERA. He was 9-2 at Winston-Salem with a 2.89 ERA before ending the season with a 3-0 record and an impressive 1.72 ERA in Birmingham. He had 160 strikeouts in 124 innings of work last season.
Cease knows that a call-up to Major League Baseball is probably coming, but the 23-year-old is focused on the task at hand with the Knights.
“I don’t think it is that hard to keep your focus,” Cease said. “If you don’t, you can get humbled really fast. I am just working on executing pitches. I’m going to go out there and compete.”
Cease said he is looking forward to pitching in Uptown Charlotte. The Knights led all of Minor League Baseball last season in average attendance in 2018, averaging 8,980 a game.
“I haven’t heard a bad thing about it,” Cease said. “Everybody that has played here has said that they have loved it. The backdrop is awesome, the stadium is incredible. It is very exciting.’’
Cease, however, isn’t the only top prospect that will start the season in Charlotte. Catchers Seby Zavala and Zack Collins and pitchers Jose Ruiz and Jordan Stephens all rank high on the prospect list. And the pitching staff has five veteran pitchers that saw time in the majors last season.
“Obviously, you are very optimistic about some good things happening,” said Knights manager Mike Grudzielanek. “We have some good talent, and we have some veterans here that have some big-league time. We have some younger guys. The chemistry with that is good in the clubhouse. We are veteran in many areas, more than the year before. I look forward to it.”
Zavala, 25, and Collins, 24, will both get time behind the plate and possibly at designated hitter. Last season, Zavala hit 11 home runs and batted .271 in 56 games at Birmingham and he played in 46 games for the Knights, hitting .247 with two homes and 20 RBI. Collins, a lefty taken in the first round of the 2016 Major League Draft by the White Sox, hit .234 with 15 home runs and 68 RBIs in 122 games at Birmingham last season.
“Both of them will get in there and get their at-bats,” Grudzielanek said. “From a catching standpoint, we will split that down the middle. We are going to move them around a little bit and make sure they get their at-bats.”
Carson Fulmer, 25, made just nine appearances with the White Sox last season (2-4, 8.07 ERA) after starting the season in the Chicago starting rotation. Fulmer, 25, then spent the rest of 2018 with the Knights (5-6, 5.32 ERA), making 25 appearances, including nine starts. He was a first-round pick in 2015 after being the College Pitcher of the Year while at Vanderbilt.
Fulmer said he is ready to put last season behind him.
“I need to keep things simple,” Fulmer said. “Obviously, you want to be there and help the White Sox. There is some stuff that needs to be ironed out here.”