It really has not been that long since Casey Mize was selected No. 1 overall by the Detroit Tigers, or since the organization’s top pitcher threw a no-hitter his first night in Double-A. But while he still ranks highly on prospect lists and in the eyes of evaluators, the shine seems to be quickly fading in both the general public and the impatient portion of the fanbase.
This requires a little pumping of the brakes. While Mize’s major league debut was not exactly as hoped, like much of 2020 it should be dwelled on too long. Yes, the homers were too frequent last season and the walks were higher than desired, but there is a long future ahead of him and it still remains very bright.
It does remain to be seen how much of that future will be on display in 2021. Mize struggled this spring, giving up nearly a run per inning, and is likely only in the rotation to start the season because of Spencer Turnbull’s injured list stint due to COVID. However, the youngster showed some promise in his last tune-up appearance, and a good start or two to open the year may extend his stay in the majors.
Detroit Tigers (2-2) vs. Minnesota Twins (3-1)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m. ET, Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Twinkie Town
Pitching Matchup: RHP Casey Mize (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs LHP J.A. Happ (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Game 5 Pitching Matchup (2020 stats)
It seems like J.A. Happ has been just about everywhere, and indeed, the Twins are his seventh MLB club to date. He signed a one-year deal with the Minnesota Twins after a solid 2020 with the Yankees where he posted a 3.47 ERA. The 38-year-old has been pretty reliable over the course of his career — he enters the season with a 3.98 career ERA — and should provide a solid presence at the back of the rotation.
Happ is not a big strikeout pitcher, though the Tigers are already showing a willingness to be aggressive at the plate which has led to one of the league’s highest strikeout rates in the young season. Instead, he is able to keep the ball down and limit hard contact, resulting in a number of groundball outs.
Detroit won the first two games of the year thanks to pitching and has yet to really get to an opposing starter. While Happ is no pushover, he does seem a little less intimidating than someone like Shane Beiber, so this would be a good time to get some early runs and give Mize a little breathing room.
Key matchup: Casey Mize vs. making progress
As mentioned before, Mize had a very rough introduction to the majors in 2020. He gave up at least a couple runs in every start, including six in his final outing, and just once completed five innings. For a pitcher who had always displayed great command and a dominant arsenal, he looked all out of sorts last season.
There is really no need to panic, though. Even with a bumpy spring, Mize still has all of the tools to be a great MLB starter and will soon enough put it all on display. The velocity is still there, and certainly the command and control are too, and it just takes a little time to adjust to the realities of the majors.
It does remain likely that he spends some time in Triple-A this year. Whether that comes in April or not depends on how he pitches today and perhaps his next trip through the rotation. No one needs to see seven shutout innings, but if he can start looking more like that prized asset that went first overall just a few years ago, then it will be a lot easier to keep him up in Detroit.