Spring training is blessedly here and, as expected, one of the Detroit Tigers’ main attractions so far has been top prospect Casey Mize. Detroit’s No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft saw a bit of Florida State League action last summer, so he is familiar with the environment and coaching staff, but this is his first time in major league camp. Still, any nerves were not apparent as the first sights and sounds of the 2019 baseball season filtered out from the Detroit media as camp opened on Tuesday.
Spring is the season of feel good stories, and there was plenty of quiet praise for the 23-year-old’s professionalism. As Anthony Fenech reported for the Free Press, Tigers pitching coach Rick Anderson was pleased with Mize’s understanding of his place in the food chain; he came to camp in great condition, showing up early each day and staying late. Mize even drew a small crowd as some of the major leaguers stopped to watch him throw for Anderson on Tuesday.
Even more tantalizing was Chris McCosky’s piece for the Detroit News on Mize’s embrace of data and technology in his training. After three seasons of pitching for an Auburn program that has invested in analytics, Mize showed off a fine grasp of the concepts behind using spin rate, spin axis, and video to develop pitches and refine his mechanics. In his offseason study, he used that data to make a major adjustment to his slider, trying to add more horizontal break.
“The numbers are right there in front of you. You can see the flight of the ball, the path of the ball. You know how it’s playing off your other pitches. With the slow-motion cameras, you can see the last thing the ball touches out of my hand.”
He referred to the new breaking ball as a hybrid slider-curve, and appeared to be using a spike curveball grip on it. Further examination will be required to confirm that. The slider is the pitch some had pegged as his weakness coming out of the draft. Currently, FanGraphs gives it a 50 grade, or major league average, with a ceiling of 55 (above-average). If he has some kind of frisbee slurve ball now, those assessments may change in a hurry.
Even so, Mize knows better than to rush. As Evan Woodberry of MLive reports, Mize is aware that the best thing he can do in his first major league camp is to get his work in and try to soak up as much knowledge from the veterans around him as possible. “These guys are playing at the highest level and that’s the goal for me,” Mize said. “They’re going to show me how it’s done, really, so I’m going to pay attention and learn.”
Mize could certainly feel the weight of his status as the Tigers’ prized prospect. On Wednesday, FanGraphs released their new top 100 prospect list, with Mize sitting 30th, by far the highest ranking of any Tigers farmhand. A lot rides on him, but it sounds like he knows that pressure is just another thing to be earned.
It’s fun to imagine Mize fronting a rebuilt powerhouse of a rotation someday. Those hopes have to be tempered with recognition of the road ahead of him to fulfill his potential. Still, it’s a shorter road than most face, and for now, his presence in spring camp should be a treat for fans seeking hope of brighter days ahead for the Tigers.