The most important task on new White Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz's to-do list? Getting Dylan Cease and the team's other young pitchers to reach their sky-high potential.
Well, hearing from the White Sox catcher Thursday, it sounds like Katz's work might be coming along quite nicely.
"I feel like if we get him to where we see him going," Yasmani Grandal said of Cease, "this guy could be a Cy Young finalist. He could possibly be a Cy Young winner. He's got the tools to do it, there's no doubt on that."
Certainly the White Sox have long talked about their high hopes for Cease, whose stuff is described as "nasty" on a fairly regular basis. But the results haven't been there, not consistently, since Cease arrived in the majors during the 2019 season.
The sample size has not been large, and thanks to the shortened 2020 campaign, Cease doesn't even have a full season's worth of starts on his big league resume, just 26 of them heading into 2021. After posting a 5.79 ERA in 2019, that number dropped significantly, to 4.01, last year. But his 2020 was defined by a large number of walks, home runs and jams, enough so that the White Sox picked Dane Dunning when they needed a No. 3 starter in their playoff series against the Oakland Athletics.
After trading Dunning for Lance Lynn over the winter, the White Sox don't need Cease to be a Cy Young type pitcher to meet their World Series expectations in 2021. Heck, they already have three Cy Young types at the top of the rotation, with Dallas Keuchel, Lynn and Lucas Giolito finishing fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively, in last year's AL Cy Young vote. They just need Cease to be a reliable fourth starting pitcher to extend a playoff series.
But the White Sox are dreaming bigger than that. And that's where Katz comes in. It was Katz, Giolito's high school pitching coach back in the day, who helped Giolito turn his career around two offseasons ago, which led to him becoming the South Side staff ace. If he can work similar magic with Cease, well then look out. The White Sox big three could become a big four in a hurry.
Katz and Cease have been hard at work on that throughout the offseason. Now that pitchers and catchers have reported to Camelback Ranch, that work can finally be done in person as the team ramps up for a season with championship aspirations.
"Now it just comes down to the process and making sure he gets to do and sees the vision that we have for him," Grandal said, "and the future is only going to dictate whether we can get him to be what we want him to be or not.
"Some guys take six, seven years to develop and then become the guy that everybody saw at the beginning of their career. I think Cease, at this point, just with his repertoire and what he's got, he's able to survive in the big leagues, without a doubt. He has the swing-and-miss (ability), he has the pitch capability. Now it's just a matter of narrowing down and making him more into a pitcher than a thrower."
If Katz, Grandal and the White Sox can make that happen, then the biggest question mark on the roster — the back end of the starting rotation — becomes a whole lot smaller. And the White Sox chase for a championship gets a whole lot easier.