Analyzing The Dylan Cease Return For The Chicago White Sox

Two prospects on Just Baseball's Top 100 list headline the return from San Diego for the White Sox ace.

PEORIA, ARIZONA - MARCH 12: Drew Thorpe #96 of the San Diego Padres pitches during the first inning of spring training game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Peoria Sports Complex on March 12, 2024 in Peoria, Arizona. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)

The Dylan Cease sweepstakes started to kick back into high gear early this week, with teams like the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers reportedly involved before the San Diego Padres swooped in on Wednesday night.

Blockbuster deals have become commonplace for Padres President of Baseball Operations AJ Preller in recent years, and with teams reportedly finding the asking price for the White Sox ace too steep over the last several months, it only seems right that the aggressive Preller pushed negotiations across the finish line at the eleventh hour.

According to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, the deal featured a trio of Padres prospects, all of which ranked among the Padres top 15 in: right-handed pitchers Drew Thorpe (No. 5) and Jairo Iriarte (No. 7), and young outfielder Samuel Zavala (No. 11).

Both Thorpe and Iriarte were ranked within Just Baseball’s top 100 prospects at the end of 2023 and are poised to climb in the soon-to-be-released list for 2024. A second round pick by the Yankees in 2022, Thorpe was one of the most dominant pitchers in the minor leagues last season, dominating with a 2.52 ERA over 139 2/3 innings while pacing all MiLB pitchers in strikeouts with 182.

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The right-hander’s double plus changeup is his key weapon, and probably as close to an 80-grade changeup as we have in the minors. The pitch mirrors his fastball before falling off of the table with hitters consistently struggling to pick it up. Thorpe racked up an unheard of swinging strike rate of 32.5% and opponent batting average barely over .100 on the pitch in 2023.

More of a three pitch guy in college, Thorpe was one of several Yankees pitching prospects to delay their pro debut in favor of the Yankees’ pitching program, which has yielded strong results in recent years.

Thorpe emerged last season with an assortment of pitches, including two variations of his slider and a cutter while seeing his fastball jump a tick, averaging 92.3 MPH. He now has a sweeper in the 83-85 MPH range that he predominantly throws to righties and a shorter, gyro breaking slider at 85-87 MPH which is a ground ball machine for hitters on both sides of the plate.

His cutter hovers around 90 MPH, mostly utilized as a third offering to lefties to get them off of the fastball/changeup pattern. Now weaponizing a five pitch mix with plus command and a changeup that is essentially a get out of jail free card, Thorpe has middle rotation upside and a late rotation floor despite his average-at-best fastball.

It is a different profile for the second arm in the deal, but Jairo Iriarte also comes with plenty of intrigue. The right-hander comes with two plus pitches that could slot him in a big league bullpen tomorrow with his fastball and slider, but his changeup has flashed as a viable third offering.

What makes Iriarte unique is his extremely athletic delivery and low release height. His 95-97 MPH fastball explodes out of his hand from a flat attack angle and 5.3 foot release height, aiding the perceived carry. It gets on hitters quickly thanks to the above average extension he gets in addition to the other unique characteristics and high velocity.

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Iriarte’s sharp slider in the mid 80s was his put-away pitch for hitters from both sides, featuring sharp and late break. He struggled to command the pitch at times, but he held hitters to a .150 batting average against the pitch in 2023.

The 22-year-old right-hander’s command is a work in progress at this point, walking 11.7% of hitters last season, which was a number that ballooned in Double-A. Command may be a bigger key for Iriarte than a third pitch, as his low 90s power changeup flashes above average, averaging 15 inches of horizontal break and giving him a serviceable ground ball pitch.

Evident by his 33.2% strikeout rate and .216 opponent batting average overall last season, Iriarte has no problem missing bats. The challenge for him is finding the zone, often finding himself too reliant on his fastball due to an inconsistent feel for his secondaries.

There’s a high leverage reliever floor for Iriarte, but he has the arsenal of a good big league starter.

The lone position player in the trade, outfielder Samuel Zavala, is still just 19 years old and is coming off of a season where he played 115 games between Low-A and High-A and produced a .797 OPS. A $1.2 million International Free Agency signing in 2021, the centerfielder has been pushed aggressively despite battling injuries in his first two seasons.

He earns high marks for his makeup and draws walks at one of the highest clips in the minors, bordering on passive with his approach. While there’s a lot of room for projection physically and Zavala does do a good job of consistently elevating the baseball, his contact rates have been well below average and the exit velocities aren’t quite there yet (which is normal for a teenager).

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There are lots of moving parts to Zavala’s swing, including a big leg kick, leaving him looking rushed or off balance at times. Some tweaks could help him be more consistent bat-to-ball wise, and there’s still plenty of reason to believe that the 6-foot-1, 175-pound teenager will mature physically.

The hope would be that added strength does not kickstart a move to a corner, where even more pressure would be put on Zavala’s bat. There’s a chance he could wind up a tweener, but if he can add strength and maintain enough quickness to stick in centerfield, there could be an above average regular here.

The White Sox understandably went with upside for the tertiary piece in the return while the Padres were able to hold onto higher floor, closer proximity bats like Jakob Marsee and Graham Pauley. Both Thorpe and Iriarte immediately slot into the White Sox’ top five prospects, with the chance to see Chicago as soon as this season.