Casey Mize, the top pick in the 2018 MLB amateur draft and No. 1 Detroit Tigers prospect, had a rough go at it in a minor league matchup against the Pittsburgh Pirates’ affiliate on the backfields of TigerTown on Sunday.
Playing on Mickey Cochrane Field and teamed up with the Low-A West Michigan Whitecaps — due to Matthew Boyd pitching in the High-A game on the adjacent Charlie Gehringer diamond — a combination of shoddy defense and some very hard contact resulted in an early exit for the crown jewel of the Tigers’ developmental talent.
(Note: I mistakenly reported that this was a High-A matchup in my tweet below.)
High-A lineup for today’s game. pic.twitter.com/FmkhCakrHr— Adam Dubbin (@AdamDubbin) March 24, 2019
The top of the first inning began with a blunder by center fielder Avery Tuck, who awkwardly attempted to field a soft looping fly ball in center. He overran it instead, allowing the batter to advance to second base. Tuck also required a stop in play to assess a possible injury; he stayed in the game and continued on. Mize avoided any trouble by retiring the next three batters in a row, all on swinging strikeouts, to close the frame. Those were his only strikeouts on the day.
The story of the offense while Mize was on the mound? TOOTBLANs and terrible baserunning. Jose King ripped a scorching line drive off the center field fence, only to be tagged out easily while trying to take third base. The other two batters in that inning popped up to the opposing second baseman in the shallow right field grass. Among a myriad of other baserunning boners, the bats did not give Mize much to work with on the scoreboard.
The top of the second inning was unremarkable, as Mize continued to maintain his composure and was able induce weak contact, including a soft grounder to third for a slick play by third baseman Zach Malis to end the inning. However, Mize started to throw a few balls in the dirt, which portended poorly for the coming innings. The Whitecaps drew another zero in the bottom of the inning after a leadoff single was erased by a 3-6 double play.
The top of the third inning began with a bang — and not in a good way. Mize’s second pitch was turned around by the lefty batter quickly, loudly, and deeply, sailing over the netting that protects the parking lot beyond the left field fence, and landing three-quarters of the way to Al Kaline Field across the way. The no-doubter dinger traveled somewhere around 380-390 feet by guestimation, and somehow managed not to damage any cars upon impact.
The inning did not get much better, as the next batter singled on a sharp infield grounder played sloppily by second baseman John Valente. The following hitter blooped a soft single into left field, followed by a successful double steal of second and third bases afterwards. The inning ended with Mize getting out of trouble on a nice diving play by left fielder Ulrich Bojarski. If you only counted one out for that inning, you’re not confused; the game film only shows the line-drive out to end the inning — that’s just how they roll sometimes on the backfields.
After a leadoff walk that was erased on a caught stealing in the bottom of the third, and a single that was nullified on a fielder’s choice at second base, the Whitecaps bats went out with a whimper again, ending the frame with a sawed-off pop fly to first base.
Mize started the top of the fourth again on the mound, but failed to record any outs before being removed from the game. He began the inning surrendering a rocket lead-off triple that hit the top of the fence in right-center field. The next batter singled, bringing home the runner at third, and later advanced to second on a pitch in the dirt. That was followed up by another line-drive single to right field, and by this point Mize was visibly rattled. His outing ultimately culminated with his only walk issued on the day. Daniel Gonzalez replaced Mize and allowed one of his inherited runners to score.
... and we have a pitching change. Looks like Gonzalez is in now. I’m moving over to the next field.— Adam Dubbin (@AdamDubbin) March 24, 2019
Mize’s final stat line is as follows: an ugly three innings pitched, allowing seven hits and four runs (all earned) with three strikeouts and one walk. While he looked pretty good in his first couple of innings, striking out three and limiting the hitters to soft contact, things came unravelled very quickly after. On a plus note, Mize showed off a very clean and efficient pickoff move to first during the third inning.
Overall, Mize’s performance against a level of competition that should not be terribly challenging did not yield favorable results, but it is still very early in the season. We shouldn’t read anything into one rough start, as the top prospect still has some work to do before he’s ready for prime time.
And for the highly heralded pitcher who is also an ardent student of the game, there’s still plenty of room to grow.