Dylan Cease trade offers Padres high upside, but what are the potential concerns?

San Diego Padres v LG Twins
San Diego Padres v LG Twins / Gene Wang/GettyImages

The San Diego Padres surprised the baseball world by acquiring Dylan Cease in a trade before boarding a flight to Korea. The Padres and Chicago White Sox reportedly came together quickly on a deal. After sorting the news, the Friar Faithful should be rejoicing as their newest addition is a high-leverage arm that will bolster the team's starting rotation.

It has been a unique offseason for Cease, who seemed to be headed everywhere but staying in Chicago for the 2024 campaign. He has been the White Sox ace for the last three seasons but struggled with consistency in 2023. Cease was 7-9 with a 4.58 ERA in 33 starts to follow up a Cy Young-caliver showing in 2022.

Posting a career 3.83 ERA across 658 innings caught the attention of Padres President of Baseball Operations and General Manager A.J. Preller. Cease is not too far removed from his best season (2022). He was 14-8 with a 2.20 ERA and finished second to Justin Verlander for the American League Cy Young Award.

Here's the complete rundown of Cease's profile and what Padres fans can expect from the right-hander in 2024.

Padres pitcher Dylan Cease: Scouting report and expectations for tenure in San Diego

Four-seam fastball (96 MPH)

In today’s baseball, a starting pitcher (typically) must possess an exploding fastball to be successful. Cease relies primarily on his four-seam fastball, as its spin rate is one of the best in baseball. If thrown for strikes, it will set up his entire pitching repertoire and keep opposing lineups off-balanced all game long.

Unsurprisingly, his strikeout numbers jump out as Cease has struck out 792 batters, or 28% of the hitters he faced in his five-year major league career. The dominance comes from the movement of his four-seam fastball. It allows Cease to expand the strike zone upward. Batters cannot get on top of his four-seam fastball as they strike out or hit weak ground balls.

Trouble begins for Cease when he struggles with his pitching mechanics. The problem is the lack of harnessing his release point, which results in Cease having control issues throughout the start.

Slider (86 MPH)

Cease throws his slider 26% of the time during a start. It records a strikeout 43% of the time. In 2023, opponents hit .216 off his slider. The data confirms that Cease gains more swings and misses than his four-seam fastball. Last season, he struck out 119 batters with his slider.

You could see him throwing more sliders at the beginning of at-bats. Cease is not afraid to tinker with his approach against different lineups. In the past, batters have looked foolish chasing his slider off the plate. Cease has a good command of the pitch if he keeps the slider low in the strike zone.

The fastball-slider combination could increase his strikeout ratio in 2024. It does not matter if he is behind or ahead in the count; Cease throws more sliders to batters. The usage has increased because his confidence has grown.

Curveball (80 MPH)

The curveball is Cease’s third pitch in his arsenal. It comes to the plate in the low 80s. Some evaluators feel the pitch is a work in progress, and the data splits confirm this notion. Cease throws a curveball about 15% of the time during each start.

Last year, batters capitalized by hitting .298 off his curveball. Often, the pitch hung over the plate as hitters crushed it for extra-bases.

Cease will need to mix in a few more curveballs to harness some length in starts this season. Granted, his fastball and slider are a lethal combo. But a more effective curveball will allow Cease to turn opposing lineups over and extend his start late into games. Despite the struggles, Cease must continue to develop his curveball. It will take a series of refinements before the pitch can be effective in games.

2024 Season Outlook

Cease is a candidate for a rebound season because of his pitching ability alone. Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove will get all the media attention, but Cease is the key to the Padres having a winning 2024 season.

If he performs up to his past level, it allows the Friars to slot Matt Waldron as the fifth starter in the rotation. The acquisition of Cease removes the need to stretch Waldron past five innings in starts. Quality starts at the top of the rotation will remove the threat of burning the bullpen before the All-Star break. as Cease will be a big part of helping the cause.