Dylan Cease, Carlos Rodón could make White Sox pitching elite

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Vinnie Duber
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Cease, Rodón could make Sox staff elite after great springs originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

What was the biggest takeaway from White Sox spring training?

Well, Eloy Jiménez got hurt, Zack Collins won the backup catcher job, and Andrew Vaughn did everything he could to show he's ready to handle an everyday job during his rookie season.

But the most important thing that happened was that Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodón were good, real good, establishing the idea that a championship-caliber starting rotation is attainable for the White Sox in 2021.

RELATED: Roster breakdown: Sox pick 26-man group for Opening Day

If the White Sox are going to go further than they did last season, they need more than two starting pitchers they can count on, a problem they solved in trading for Lance Lynn back in December. Lynn's arrival gives the White Sox a trio of aces at the front of the rotation and prevents the White Sox from falling into the kind of hole they couldn't dig themselves out of last fall, when they had no reliable third starting-pitching option to turn to in an elimination game.

But if the White Sox are going to win the World Series, they'll need more than that.

At the beginning of the spring, huge question marks hung over what to expect from the starting staff past Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel and Lynn. And while spring training is spring training, practice that doesn't count toward the season itself, Cease and Rodón opened eyes with their performances. Together, they looked fantastic and provided some confidence that the White Sox biggest question could be answered in a positive manner this summer.

"Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodón have been two of the brightest spots, among many, of this spring," general manager Rick Hahn said Tuesday. "Just thrilled with where Carlos is at physically, where the stuff's at, the plan that he's on, that he's sticking to and the progress we've seen over just the six weeks we've been here.

"Dylan, obviously there was a specific plan in place once Ethan (Katz, White Sox pitching coach) came in, and it was a little bit challenging to execute that because they couldn't really be together much in the offseason. But Dylan obviously worked really hard to respond to the challenges Ethan put in front of him, and we've seen the benefit of that this spring.

"Really looking forward to seeing both of those guys once the bell rings. Very strong reasons for optimism for both those two."

While the two youngsters have never been considered finished products — Cease enters his third big league season with just 26 starts to his name, and Rodón has missed so much time due to terrible injury luck — it's not difficult to see the immediate impact that Katz has made. Brought in to succeed Don Cooper as pitching coach after helping Giolito turn his career around a few years ago, Katz worked his magic on Cease and Rodón this winter and spring.

Cease struggled with walks last year, and though everyone's always said his nasty stuff could make him elite, he had trouble keeping people off base. This spring, he was excellent, allowing just two runs and striking out 22 hitters, walking just seven, in 17 innings. He finished his excellent string of Cactus League starts with an 11-strikeout, zero-walk effort Tuesday.

Rodón had even more work to do to earn a spot in the rotation. He was non-tendered early in the offseason, then entered a competition with Reynaldo López and others for the No. 5 spot. He won it running away, he was that good this spring, with a 1.32 ERA and a 16-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13.2 innings.

Both credited working with Katz, and now both could hold the key to how high the White Sox can fly this season. If they can carry over their big springs, the White Sox could own one of the most fearsome pitching staffs in baseball, something they're close to having already, considering the aces at the front of the rotation and an absolutely loaded bullpen. That group could end up able to go toe-to-toe with anyone in a playoff series.

Cease and Rodón could make a massive difference as the White Sox try to meet their World Series expectations. If the spring was a taste of what's to come, then look out.

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