With the 2019 MLB draft right around the corner, the Tigers are hoping to turn the number five pick into another building block for the future. While this year’s pick will likely be a position player, it appears the Tigers struck gold when they drafted Casey Mize, the right-hander out of Auburn University with the top overall pick last year.
Mize is tearing it up this season in the minor leagues, his first full season in professional baseball. Mize has already thrown a no-hitter this year and after eight scoreless innings in a start on Sunday for Double-A Erie, his record is 4-0 with a 1.40 ERA after six starts. Mize was untouchable at Lakeland this season, pitching to a 0.35 ERA over four starts in the Florida State League before his call-up to Erie.
Mize appears to be a great example of getting it right with the top overall pick. While he was clearly the top pitching prospect in last year’s draft, there are never any guarantees. The MLB draft is littered with hits and misses for teams who selected a pitcher with the top overall pick.
For every David Price or Stephen Strasburg, the draft has produced flame outs like Brien Taylor and Mark Appel.
Taylor was the first overall selection by the New York Yankees in the 1991 draft. He was a can’t miss pick out of high school in North Carolina. Yet, Taylor never sniffed a big league mound after he was injured in a fight, tearing his labrum. He primed to be the next Doc Gooden, striking out 203 batters in 84 innings and sending high school hitters gleefully back to the bench after standing in against his 98 MPH heater. They wanted no part of him. Yes, the argument can be made that the fight didn’t necessarily mean the Yankees made a bad pick, but the same cannot be said about the Astros in 2013 when they selected Appel, a righty out of Stanford.
Appel was supposed to be a cornerstone of the Astros future rotation, but after floundering in the minor leagues for three years, he was traded to the Phillies. In February of 2018, Appel retired from baseball. What made the Appel selection doubly tough for the Astros to swallow, was knowing that they passed on Kris Bryant, who was selected second in the draft by the Chicago Cubs. Oops.
The number one pick can change the course of a franchise. Price is a good example of that, helping lead the Rays to three post season appearances in four years.
Gerrit Cole has also gone from being the top overall selection into an ace-type pitcher in the major leagues. But a look at the history of pitchers taken number one overall also includes names like Tim Belcher, Andy Benes, Kris Benson and Luke Hochevar. A solid list, but far from franchising-changing names.
That brings us back to Mize. It’s difficult to predict what his major league future will look like, but if early results are an indication of things to come, the Tigers got it right by selected him with the top pick last year.
There is always inherent risk with any draft pick, but those that saw Mize pitch as amateur at Auburn firmly believed he had the goods to pitch in the big league rotation last year. The Tigers, of course, were too smart to allow that to happen. Even as poor as the product was at Comerica Park last year, they were in no way going to be enticed into throwing Mize into the fire before they felt he was ready. Now, as he blows through Double-A, that time may be nearing.
The Tigers brought Justin Verlander to the big leagues at the age of 22. Joel Zumaya was only 21 when he debuted and Rick Porcello arrived as a 20-year-old. The 22-year-old Mize probably won’t need much more seasoning.
Mize has always had a reputation of being well prepared. His manager at Double-A, Mike Rabelo, raves about his maturity. He should be able to spot maturity. Rabelo was a catcher on the Tigers 2007 team that featured Verlander, Zumaya and Andrew Miller, all youngsters at the beginning of their major league journeys.
As a comparison, Verlander made only 22 starts in the minor leagues before he was summoned to the big leagues for good. Porcello made 24 starts. Right now, Mize has made 15 minor league starts. His time is coming, and it might be soon.
When he does get to the big leagues, here’s betting he will go down as a hit and not a miss as a number one overall selection.