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2019 BYB Tigers prospect #1: RHP Casey Mize is making a great first impression

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The Tigers’ top prospect has looked outstanding in his first pro camp.

MLB: Detroit Tigers-Media Day Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

When the Bless You Boys staff convened to develop our 2019 consensus ranking of the Tigers farm system, one decision was easy; Casey Mize was going to get top billing. The first overall pick in the 2018 draft dominated his junior season at Auburn with a compelling mix of polish and power the Tigers couldn’t pass up on draft day. He is the unanimous choice across all scouting outlets as the best prospect in the Tigers’ farm system. And he has done nothing but impress in spring camp.

Mize is already universally hailed as one of the better pitching prospects in the game, with only minor difference of opinion. MLB Pipeline slots Mize in as the 17th overall prospect in baseball, while FanGraphs is more cautious, pegging him 30th. The general line on him is that many believe he could be effective in the major leagues already, but doesn’t quite have the ace potential some of the other top prospects possess. If the Tigers were a postseason hopeful in 2019, that might be put to the test as early as this summer. Instead, Mize will probably get the full season to work in the upper minors before the Tigers consider a big promotion.

Background

Back in 2015, as a high school senior, Casey Mize seemed to have his sights set on Auburn University. Despite ranking as the second-best high school pitcher in Alabama, Mize went completely undrafted. An ankle injury made him an unlikely choice for the top rounds, and thus to sign at all, but it’s still a bit funny that he didn’t even get a cursory late round nod.

He got off to a decent start as a freshman for Auburn, but it was his sophomore season where he showed some major leaps in his ability. His velocity, stuff, and control all continued to tick up, and he put everything together in an outstanding junior year that made him a near lock for the top spot in the draft.

Strengths

The strongest part of Mize’s game is that he has so many weapons, and the command to use them well. The solidly built righthander packs a fastball-cutter combination that both draw plus grades from FanGraphs. The showpiece, however, is a high quality splitter that absolutely hamstrung college hitters. Those three offerings, delivered with roughly average command already, form a foundation that made Mize a relatively low risk pick, at least by pitchers’ standards.

Mize will sit around 93-95 miles per hour with his fastball. He will mix two-seam and four-seam varieties, and ramp it up to 97 mph when he wants a little extra. In spring camp, reports indicated him sitting 95 mph regularly, and hitting 98 mph at his max, albeit in shortened outings. Mize likes the heater at the top of the zone to set up the rest of his arsenal when he’s ahead, but he locates the two-seamer down and to both sides of the plate quite well too. He can ride the high fastball and still run the two-seamer in with nice life.

The cutter in his repertoire adds another wrinkle to Mize’s hard stuff. He generally sits around 89 mph with it. The pitch looks like a hard, rifle spin slider, coming out like a fastball before dropping and cutting away from right-handed hitters late. Throughout his junior year, we saw him mixing the fastball and the cutter on the outer edge against righties, moving the ball on and off the plate at two different speeds, before straightening them back up with the high fastball on their hands. He will bust lefties in on the hands with the cutter as well, while keeping the four-seamer on the outer edge. Mize knows what he has to work with, and how to mix both pitches to best effect.

The splitter was a bit of a freak show by college standards. You don’t see too many with this quality and control in a young pitcher. The splitter sits around 86 mph and has good deception with tumbling action to his arm side. The knock on the pitch, generally, is that misses tend to hang up in the zone. Mize showed the command needed to avoid those misses throughout his junior season.

Finally, Mize draws excellent grades for his character. By all accounts a high quality person who is a leader on and off the field, Mize works hard and studies the game intently. He has an honesty and a willingness to identify and aggressively attack his own weaknesses, and an advanced understanding of how to go about it. Auburn has been very proactive about incorporating Trackman data and using Rapsodo devices to supply cutting edge information to their pitchers, and no one has taken to that better than Mize.

Just give this recent interview a listen to get a sense of the individual and pitcher the Tigers are banking on.

Weaknesses

There isn’t a whole lot to cover here. Some believe that Mize’s fastball isn’t quite a plus offering, and won’t allow him to overpower major league hitters consistently. He will also lag his arm a bit too much in his delivery, leading to some issues keeping the ball down. However, Mize has a detailed understanding of his mechanics, and those bouts of inaccuracy don’t tend to last long. If there’s one area that could be called a weakness, it’s his breaking ball, and Mize has already taken dead aim on shoring up that area of his game this offseason.

Before the draft, plenty of observers were still grading Mize’s slider as an above average breaking ball, but others were skeptical. It was a blunt, fairly hard slider at 86-87 mph without much bite. While effective against college hitters already dealing with the most advanced arsenal they had see all season, the slider wasn’t primed to be more than a show-me pitch against major leaguers.

However, Mize himself recognized the truth in the bleaker assessments and ignored the “if it ain’t broke,” advice of some pundits. The old slider blurred into his cutter, diminishing both pitches’ effectiveness. Again, against college hitters they were good enough, but Mize has his eyes on the major league prize, and went to work this offseason looking to rebuild the slider from the ground up. Working at his agency’s camp, he studied the spin and movement profile of his old slider, and began experimenting with grips, seeking to maximize the effective spin on the pitch.

What he came up with is a slurvy offering that delivers better downward bite and better velocity separation from the rest of his stuff. He is basically throwing a hard 11-5 curveball with a spike curve grip at 80-82 mph. While we didn’t get many chances to see it in major league camp over the past month, the pitch certainly has some promise. It will be interesting to see how the splitter and slurve play off one another, moving in opposite directions from a similar eye line to Mize’s high four-seamer. He will need time to refine the new breaking ball into a consistent offering, but based on everything we’ve seen from him so far, he’s a good bet to figure it out.

Projected 2019 team: Double-A Erie SeaWolves

As previously noted, if the Tigers were in contention in 2019, Mize would be a pretty good bet to be called up later in the season. The Tigers have typically been very cautious with their prospects, so look for a bit of an extended spring start at High-A Lakeland, followed by a quick move to Erie. By late summer, you can probably expect to see Mize in Triple-A Toledo, and by this time next year, he should be in the mix for the Tigers’ starting rotation.