A lot can change in the lead up to the MLB draft. Even when it comes to the No. 1 overall pick, when teams have had months to make their decision on which player to take, there isn’t always a consensus. Just last year, the Minnesota Twins surprised everyone by taking shortstop Royce Lewis first overall (or “1-1” as you may see us denote that pick in future draft articles). Mock drafts had gone in several other directions, showing us all that predicting the MLB draft can be damn near impossible.
Now that the Detroit Tigers are involved, everyone seems to agree on one thing: Auburn righthander Casey Mize is the clear frontrunner to go 1-1. The 20-year-old Mize is currently enjoying a dominant junior season for the Tigers. He is 7-1 with a 2.00 ERA through nine starts. He has struck out 86 batters through 63 innings — yup, that’s seven innings per start — with just 37 hits and four walks allowed. He owns a cartoonish 21.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
But is he the right pick for Detroit? Let’s look closer at what Mize brings to the table.
Draft day age: 21
MLB Pipeline prospect rank: 1
Previously drafted: Never
MLB Pipeline Scouting Grades: RHP Casey Mize
There’s a lot to unpack here, as there will be for most candidates for the first overall pick. Mize sports a solid low-to-mid-90s fastball, but his best pitch is his splitter, a high-80s offering Mize uses with abandon, especially against left-handed hitters. Perfect Game described the pitch as “devastating” when recapping Mize’s no-hitter against Northeastern in March. Both MLB Pipeline and Minor League Ball’s John Sickels describe it as a plus pitch, and it has the potential to get even better in the pro ranks. ESPN’s Keith Law gave Mize’s splitter a double-plus (70) grade, calling it “the best swing-and-miss pitch in the class.” Law also labeled Mize a “clear” No. 1 prospect in this year’s draft.
Mize’s fastball is no slouch, though. According to Sickels, Mize has sat between 93-95 miles per hour with the fastball this season, topping out at 96 mph. “The pitch has above-average movement yet he commands it well, which is almost unfair...” added Sickels. MLB Pipeline also graded it as a plus offering, in part thanks to “exceptional” command of the pitch. Law echoed these sentiments, giving Mize’s fastball a plus grade. Mize pounds the lower half of the strike zone with the fastball, leading to plenty of ground balls. Said Law, “Between the fastball and splitter [Mize] could probably go entire games without giving up a fly ball on nights in which he has better command.”
Mize also throws a cutter that has been described as above-average to plus, and a developing slider/curveball-ish pitch that sits in the low 80s. The latter is clearly the weakest pitch of his arsenal, but still one that he has used effectively against right-handed hitters this year. Sox Machine’s Josh Nelson had some trouble identifying the two, but still came away impressed with how Mize uses them.
When re-watching the game tape, it’s hard to decipher which one it is. The slider has more of a vertical drop while the cutter has late horizontal movement to it. Mize stays on the outside corner with these two pitches which could make it easy for hitters to guess what is coming at them. However, with Mize’s excellent command it forces hitters to swing at these difficult to hit pitches.
While the arsenal is clearly worthy of a first round selection, Mize’s best attribute might be his plus control. He can spot the fastball despite plenty of movement on the pitch, and is able to keep his secondaries away from trouble spots in the strike zone. He misses at times — Nelson said Mize can “spike” the splitter at times, while Law noted Mize was missing up in the zone in a recent outing — but it’s hard to argue with his jaw-dropping numbers. Most college pitchers have locating even their best secondary pitch at times; that Mize is able to pound the zone with three different off-speed pitches speaks to how refined a prospect he is already.
The biggest knock on Mize is his durability. He missed some time during his sophomore season with arm fatigue, and only pitched 83 2⁄3 innings across 13 appearances. While those frames were still quite good — he managed a 2.04 ERA and 12.11 strikeout-to-walk ratio — he was also shut down again over the summer with a similar injury, along with a flexor strain in his right elbow. FanGraphs indicates that Mize is the guy at 1-1, but hedges by saying “provided he doesn’t get hurt and his medical comes back fine.” There are some concerns that the spitter could be the reason for these injuries, but Mize and his coaching staff made an adjustment to his slider grip that appears to be paying dividends. Mize could go a long way to allay those concerns by pitching a full healthy season in 2018, but he has a ways to go in order to build up to a full workload in the pro ranks.
Part of the concerns over Mize’s durability stem from his mechanics, which have been described as “funky” by multiple outlets. He throws from a three-quarters arm slot, but remains a bit more upright than you might expect from someone hitting the mid-90s with consistency. He gets the ball to the plate quickly, but it seems (to this amateur scout’s eyes) like his arm is doing most of the work. He is fairly direct to the plate, leaving him in a good fielding position once he finishes his delivery, and Baseball America identified that he repeats his release points well.
Draft position: top five, and probably rising
Mize has shot up draft boards with another stellar season, and his video game numbers are only getting more gaudy as the season progresses. He’s a near lock to go in the top five as long as he stays healthy, and as so many have pointed out already, he will probably go No. 1 overall to the Tigers on June 4.