The Detroit Tigers selected Auburn RHP Casey Mize with the #1 overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft on Monday night. Mize immediately becomes the top prospect in the Detroit system and a key part of the Tigers’ future as the team is still in the beginning of a rebuild. Given this, it’s time to take a look at who the Tigers are getting and what to expect going forward.
Mize was born on May 1, 1997, so he’s the typical age for a college player. Unlike most college players taken in the first round of the MLB Draft, Mize was never drafted out of high school. The Springville, Alabama, native was very raw and went straight to Auburn University where he started in the bullpen as a freshman, making 7 starts and 16 total appearances to the tune of a 3.52 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP. In his sophomore season, he officially broke into the rotation full time, with a 2.04 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP and entering into serious contention for the MLB Draft. However it was an excellent junior season that propelled the 6’3”, 208 lb. righty to the top of draft boards.
His Junior Season
In 2018, Mize has taken his play to another level, emerging as the clear #1 pick on just about everyone’s draft board. His 2.95 ERA is a tad misleading and it’s the other numbers that are more impressive. In 109.2 innings, Mize has surrendered 77 hits and 12 walks, for a 0.82 WHIP with a 151 strikeouts. That comes out to a gaudy 12.39 K/9 inning but more importantly, an astonishing 12.58-to-1 K/BB ratio, almost unheard of numbers.
As you can guess by that K/BB ratio, his greatest tool is his command. He can control all of his pitches effectively, pounding the zone against hitters. I’m a strong believer in fastball command as the first trait I look for in young pitchers, and he fits that mold to a tee. His fastball sits between 92-97 mph, not sacrificing much velocity for the pinpoint command. He can get swings and misses with that pitch, but his strikeout pitch is the splitter. The splitter is in the mid-80s mph and dives down in the zone, graded as a 70/80 by MLB.com, his best pitch according to them. He also has a productive slider that has by all accounts, improved as his career at Auburn has continued. He also can throw a cutter when he wants, though it’s not a feature pitch.
The big thing with Mize is that he is a rather low risk player. In a draft that had no generational talent, Mize was the best player, but also the best combination of low risk but still a sizable reward. Unlike a high school pitcher, Mize is very refined and won’t require too much maturation on his way to the MLB. There are injury concerns for Mize, as there are with almost any young pitcher. One point of concern is the splitter, a particularly hard pitch on the elbow, which is a big reason why few pitchers throw it anymore. Mize says he’s changed the grip to make it less demanding on his elbow, something that seems to have worked as he’s gone his entire junior campaign without any sign of injury. However, he was shut down last season after he developed a tired arm. He has no apparent personality issues and scouts like his compete level and work ethic. And obviously, his improvement at Auburn shows that he’s willing to learn and mature.
It’s always anyone’s guess when trying to project the ceiling of young prospects, but Mize clearly has the potential to be a frontline starter. Whether he’s a #1 or a #2 doesn’t really matter but he clearly has top of the rotation stuff. The Tigers should look at him as someone they can pencil in at the top of their future rotation if he reaches his potential.
His path to the MLB
The upside to drafting college players is that they are much closer to the MLB than high school players. When looking at recent top 10 college pitchers, most make it to the MLB within 2 years of being drafted. Aaron Nola, Trevor Bauer, Kevin Gausman, and Carson Fulmer made it to the show the very next season, while Gerrit Cole and Matt Harvey made it in the second full season in the system. As a result, we should expect Mize to make it to Detroit in 2019 if things went perfectly, or in 2020 if he takes a normal route. He will probably start in A+ Lakeland either this season, or to start next year should the Tigers choose to shut him down like they did Alex Faedo last year because Mize has already logged a lot of innings in college. From there, it’s the fast track to the bigs, including AA and AAA.