No. 1 Pick Casey Mize Has the Makings of a Fast-Rising, No-Doubt MLB Superstar

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJune 5, 2018

Auburn pitcher Casey Mize throws a pitch during the first inning of a Southeastern Conference tournament NCAA college baseball game against Texas A&M, Thursday, May 24, 2018, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Butch Dill/Associated Press

The newest member of the Detroit Tigers organization is a pitcher who could be in their starting rotation in a year and an All-Star soon thereafter.

So, we might as well get to know Casey Mize right now.

He's a 21-year-old right-hander who's spent the last three years turning himself into a college ace with the Tigers of Auburn University. Now he's destined to be the next ace of the Tigers of Detroit after the club chose him with the No. 1 pick in Major League Baseball's 2018 draft.

Pretty good for a guy who wasn't even drafted out of high school. In fact, Mize is the first player to go from undrafted to No. 1 since the Washington Nationals drafted Stephen Strasburg in 2009.

He's also the first Auburn player to be drafted at No. 1 and the first Tiger to go in the top 10 since Frank Thomas went to the Chicago White Sox at No. 7 in 1989. 

But as far as the Tigers—who secured the No. 1 pick with a dismal, rebuild-launching 98-loss season in 2017—are concerned, more important is that Mize is the franchise's first top-two pick since it took a fellow named Justin Verlander at No. 2 in 2004. He went on to win the American League Rookie of the Year in 2006 and the MVP and Cy Young Award in 2011. He also made six All-Star appearances as a Tiger.

In so doing, Verlander set quite a standard for Mize to live up to. Yet, his capacity to do just that should not be underestimated.

According to Josh Vitale of Opelika-Auburn News, at least one college coach sees a little Verlander in Mize:

Another guy who would know enough to compare the two pitchers is Tigers general manager Al Avila, who's been in the team's front office since 2002. As far as he's concerned, Mize may be more of a sure thing now than Verlander was back in '04.

"Verlander was obviously a high pick and an elite pitcher. He threw 100 mph," Avila said, per Jason Beck of MLB.com. "My point was that at this point, I felt Mize was a bit more advanced in that his secondary pitches were a bit more refined than Verlander's at that time. When we took Verlander, when he came here, he moved pretty quickly. But at the same time, there was a lot of work to be done."

This gets at the gist of pretty much every scouting report on Mize: He throws nothing but good pitches, and he throws them well.

Courtesy of Auburn Athletics

Officially, Mize has a four-pitch repertoire consisting of a low-to-mid 90s four-seam fastball, a cutter that touches the low 90s and a slider and splitter that both sit in the mid-80s.

Courtesy of Rob "Pitching Ninja" Friedman, they look like this:

Unofficially, however, Baseball America's (subscription required) scouting report on Mize claims that his four-pitch mix is really more like a six-pitch mix due to the different ways he can throw his slider and splitter. In any event, each pitch is either a plus or a plus-plus.

Further, Mize doesn't lean on any one pitch in particular. In starts chronicled by FanGraphs, he's used only 37 percent fastballs and 32 percent cutters with roughly the same rate of sliders (15 percent) and splitters (16 percent).

If anyone's expecting the catch to be that Mize has an iffy control profile that portends a future with a less dynamic repertoire, here's a spoiler: Nope.

Mize featured pretty good control in walking only 18 batters in 69 innings as a freshman in 2016. He then fine-tuned his mechanics in the Cape Cod League over the summer, and he's proceeded to walk just 21 batters in 193.1 innings over the last two seasons.

"He's more polished than most college pitchers that we've seen in the past few years," one AL scout told Mark Feinsand of MLB.com. "Anybody you would consider in the first round, they usually have velocity and stuff and have performed pretty well. Casey's fastball command to both sides of the plate is way advanced; it's like watching a Double-A pitcher getting close to the big leagues."

Mize's attack hasn't just been good for limiting walks. It's also been good for missing bats and keeping balls in the yard. All told, the progression of his three true outcome rates is a sight to behold:

More so than Verlander, a better comp for Mize at this point is Aaron Nola.

He was widely regarded as a polished, nearly-MLB-ready pitcher when the Philadelphia Phillies took him out of LSU with the No. 7 pick in 2014. Sure enough, he was in the majors the following July. Three years later, he's arguably the front-runner for the National League Cy Young.

Perhaps the only thing that can stop Mize from walking a similar path is health. He's had his run-ins with the injury bug, including a forearm issue that sidelined him for part of 2017.

As long as Mize can continue to avoid major injuries, however, he'll be on a fast track to stardom in The Show. And he can look forward to having some young company in Detroit's rotation.

Following Beau Burrows in 2015, Matt Manning in 2016 and Alex Faedo in 2017, the Tigers have used a first-round pick on a pitcher in four straight years. All three now rank among the club's best prospects. So does Franklin Perez, who the Tigers got when they shipped Verlander to the Houston Astros last year.

What the Tigers are doing with their rebuild looks like a natural evolution of what the Chicago Cubs were doing with theirs several years ago. They stockpiled bats at a time when arms were plentiful and ended up winning a World Series for their efforts. With offense now back in fashion, the Tigers have the right idea if they think that stockpiling arms can lead to a similar result.

At the least, they shouldn't need to wait long before Mize is atop their rotation. It's where he's headed and where he belongs.

    

Mize's college stats courtesy of AuburnTigers.com. Other data courtesy of Baseball Reference.

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