The Tigers minor league system is full of legitimate big league pitching prospects, that much is no secret. The last half-decade of drafts has restocked the organization with talent that was desperately needed following years of depleting a system in the pursuit of a World Series title.
With the top overall pick in this year’s June Amateur Draft, the Tigers feel they landed a difference maker in Auburn right-hander Casey Mize. Mize officially inked a reported $7.5 million deal with the club this week, and after making the rounds at Comerica Park, one could only come away impressed with the newest Tiger.
Mize is a polished package of talent that goes beyond his abilities on a baseball diamond. He is articulate, confident and most importantly excited to be a Detroit Tiger. One tour around the ballpark and city this week gave Mize a distinct appreciation for the rich baseball history that resides in this blue-collar town.
He soaked in the club’s storied past as he gazed at the retired numbers and statues of Tigers greats that line the outfield at Comerica Park. He signed autographs from his seat behind home plate for Tigers fans hungry for their team to return to playoff contention.
While Mize received his first taste of life as a Tiger this week, he understands there is work to do as the club ponders where and if he will pitch the remainder of this season.
Earlier this year, I ran into former Orioles closer Gregg Olson at Camden Yards. Olson’s son plays for Auburn and he has seen Mize pitch several times. His assessment of the talented right-hander? “He can pitch in the big leagues right now,” Olson said. “Seriously, he can step into your rotation in September.”
Well, that’s not going to happen, but you get the idea. Olson is very high on Mize’s abilities.
Now that Mize is ready to embark on his professional career, he understands this is not college anymore, adjustments will have to be made.
“I think the first thing is going to a five-man rotation,” he said. “In college, you have seven days before your next start so that will be an adjustment. The Southeastern Conference is a great conference but professional baseball is a step forward and I have to learn how to get those hitters out. I think I’ll have to do it in different ways than in college.”
The SEC is indeed a strong baseball conference but Mize knows he will have to step up his game, but he has plenty of arrows in his quiver. We’ll start with a devastating split-finger pitch that had scouts drooling.
“I think my best pitch is the split-change, it’s kind of my out pitch,” he said. “I think the pitch after that is the cut fastball which I added this year actually. It really plays well in hitters counts.”
When scouts evaluate Mize, they typically talk of his command of the strike zone and that split. So where did he learn to throw his out pitch?
“I started throwing it a little bit in high school,” he said. ” I started throwing it with my dad just playing catch on the driveway actually. I adjusted the grip when I got to college but I started throwing it with my dad.” There you have it. Self-taught and perfected on the driveway of the Mize household.
While Mize mastered the college game quickly and dominated his competition, it didn’t come easily at first. He had some challenges to overcome in the early days.
“When I got to Auburn, I gave up six runs in two innings in my first start and the failure became repetitive so that was a tough time,” he said.
But, the tough times eventually evened out as Mize developed a system to slow the game down in his mind that served him well over his career.
“Personally, I have three keys that help me focus and have confidence,” he said. “I command the baseball very well, my split-change is one of the best pitches in baseball and I prepare better than anyone else in baseball. Those are the things I would tell myself to help me refocus.”
Those positive affirmations, Mize feels, helped him through the inevitable ups and downs of baseball.
As the Tigers decide where and when Mize will begin his pro career, the club feels confident that he is a difference maker. Plenty of scrutiny comes with the first overall pick. Make a bad selection and it can set an organization back. Based on what they saw this week during Mize’s introduction to Detroit, the Tigers feel comfortable that he is more than capable to pay dividends on their healthy investment.
One truism in baseball is that you can never have too much pitching. The Tigers agree, and they are building a healthy stable of arms to lead them into the future.