The road to Detroit is taking Tigers top prospect Casey Mize out of Lakeland, Fla. The first overall pick from last year’s MLB Draft will make his next start for Double-A Erie, earning a promotion after dominating Florida State League hitters for four starts in April.
“I'm very excited,” Mize said on a Thursday conference call. “I'm looking forward to joining up with the team and getting going. It's going to be a new challenge for me, a new level, and I'm looking forward to embracing that.”
The move had been expected well before Mize picked up his second win for Class A Advanced Lakeland on Tuesday, tossing eight scoreless innings of one-hit ball with four strikeouts over just 89 pitches. The former Auburn University standout retired his final 20 batters, throwing 69 of 82 pitches for strikes in that stretch.
Add in his previous outings, and Mize is 2-0 with a mere 0.35 ERA and a 25-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 26 innings for the Flying Tigers. Within those numbers were two slightly different styles of pitching. While his fastball command and trademark splitter have been consistent, his cutter became a more viable pitch for him the past couple of starts, allowing him to get quick outs and work seven and eight innings in less than 90 pitches.
“The main thing that's been working has been fastball command,” Mize said, “and then everything else has been mixing in.”
By Tuesday, there was little left for Mize, the 16th-ranked prospect in MLB Pipeline’s Top 100, to prove at the level.
“To do it for four starts in a row is very challenging,” Mize said, “so I'm very happy with what the numbers are.”
It wasn’t much of a surprise to Tigers officials, who had pondered placing Mize in Erie to open the season. The main reason Mize began the season in Lakeland was climate; the Tigers wanted him on a regular rotation schedule and feared the unpredictable April weather in Erie could disrupt that. The SeaWolves had three games postponed and another game suspended, though all but one of those came on the road.
That April chill is finally abating, judging by the forecast, so the time is now.
Mize’s arrival creates a star-studded SeaWolves rotation, which already features second-ranked Tigers prospect Matt Manning and 10th-ranked prospect Alex Faedo. Manning, ranked 49th on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100, tossed six innings of one-run ball with nine strikeouts for Erie on Tuesday to improve to 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA in four starts this season. He has 32 strikeouts in just 22 2/3 innings. Faedo tossed seven no-hit innings Wednesday before leaving due to pitch count restrictions.
“It's very exciting,” Mize said of the pairing. “I've played before with Matt last summer [in Lakeland], so I'm excited to play with him again. But I've never been teammates with Faedo. Just being part of that rotation is really cool, because I know what we can be capable of.”
Slugging SeaWolves infielder Isaac Paredes is also in MLB Pipeline’s Top 100, having recently cracked the list when Blue Jays prospect Danny Jansen graduated to Toronto.
The SeaWolves' rotation is getting another addition in Lakeland in hard-throwing left-hander Gregory Soto. The Tiger’s 26th-ranked prospect made one start in Lakeland after opening the season on the suspended list. The 24-year-old went 8-8 with a 4.45 in 25 games for the Flying Tigers last year, striking out 115 batters in 113 1/3 innings.
Mize’s Double-A debut will be Sunday afternoon on the road at Trenton. He’ll make his first home start for Erie the following weekend against Bowie. While he prepares to join the team this weekend, he’ll be trying to prepare for the difference in competition.
“Obviously the hitters are going to be better,” Mize said. “A lot of people have said this is the biggest jump in the Minor Leagues. The thing I've heard is that the hitters don't chase as much. They take more pitches trying to get their pitch to hit. I'm definitely going to do more research.”
Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire, who had a good look at Mize’s potential in Spring Training, expects Double-A hitters to present a good challenge for him. He also expects Mize to rise to it.
“He gets it,” Gardenhire told reporters Thursday in Boston before the Tigers finished their four-game series against the Red Sox. “He’s got his head to the grindstone, as they say, or whatever you want to call it. He’s a good worker, and I don’t think he gets too big-headed about anything. He’s on a mission to get to the big leagues, and I know that [about] that kid because I’ve been around him enough. He’s got it going on. He’s a pretty smart kid.”