One by one, the names went off the board. Casey Mize's just wasn't one of them.Mize was a well-regarded pitching prospect three years ago, ranked as the No. 2 high school pitcher in Alabama and a Top 300 prospect overall. Yet thanks to a high ankle sprain and signability questions,
One by one, the names went off the board. Casey Mize's just wasn't one of them.
Mize was a well-regarded pitching prospect three years ago, ranked as the No. 2 high school pitcher in Alabama and a Top 300 prospect overall. Yet thanks to a high ankle sprain and signability questions, he watched more than 1,200 players get selected in the 2015 Draft without his name being called.
On Monday, Mize is expected to be selected by the Detroit Tigers with the No. 1 overall pick, taking his pristine command to professional baseball after two superb seasons at Auburn University.
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Should Mize go No. 1, he'll be only the seventh player to go from undrafted high schooler to top overall pick, the first since Stephen Strasburg went to the Nationals at the top of the 2009 Draft.
"It will be a great stat for me in recruiting," Auburn head coach Butch Thompson said with a chuckle.
Despite being passed over by each of the 30 Major League clubs 40 times in 2015, Mize held no hard feelings toward anybody. Having developed both his body and his repertoire during his college career, the right-hander believes he's a completely different pitcher than the kid who arrived at Auburn in '15.
"I really wanted to go to Auburn," Mize said. "I didn't really use the Draft as a ton of motivation. I understood where I stood with my talent level. I knew I needed to go to Auburn to get better. I didn't take the Draft personally. I wanted to put myself in a better position in three years, which is where I am now."
"It was never a question of talent," an American League area scout said.
Mize didn't distinguish himself during his freshman season at Auburn, going 2-5 in seven starts with a 3.52 ERA and one save in 16 appearances. He struck out 59 batters and walked 18, a 3.28-to-1 ratio he knew he needed to improve if he hoped to take his game to the next level.
That summer, Mize pitched for Wareham in the Cape Cod League, where pitching coach Jim Lawler allowed him to work exclusively out of the stretch to fine-tune his mechanics. Although his numbers (11 strikeouts, five walks in 12 innings) didn't show it, he left the Cape feeling like he had found something.
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During his sophomore season, Mize went 8-2 with a 2.04 ERA, striking out 109 batters while walking just nine in 13 outings (12 starts). That 12.11-to-1 ratio led the NCAA, while his 11.73 strikeouts per nine innings ranked 15th in the nation.
"I knew he had a good arm and a good body and was a good young man who was raised well, but it wasn't until he was entering his sophomore year that I knew I had a potential real dude on my hands," Thompson said. "Everything came together."
Mize's incredible command proved to be no fluke. Through his first 15 starts this season, he has struck out 140 and walked 10, the 14-to-1 ratio ranking second in the nation and first among the 45 pitchers with at least 100 punchouts.
"He's more polished than most college pitchers that we've seen in the past few years," the AL scout said. "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 command may be Maddux-like, but his bulldog mindset on the mound reminds his coach more of another Cy Young Award winner: Justin Verlander.
"He's stoic, but he loves to compete," Thompson said.
Mize considers himself "pretty relaxed and chill" away from the field, but his one chance per week to take the mound in an Auburn uniform is his time to dig in and show the world how good he can be.
"Coach Thompson told me that somebody wins every pitch, so I take every pitch personally," Mize said. "I'm trying to win every pitch out there. Something as small as that is a mental key that allows me to be so competitive."
With the ability to command four pitches -- he ranks his split-change as his best pitch, followed by his fastball, cutter and slider -- Mize appears ready to embark on a professional career.
"When you can consistently release the ball from the same slot, it makes it a lot easier to throw strikes," Mize said. "If you go 2-0 to somebody, you don't want to give in and throw a fastball. If you can throw your other pitches for strikes, that gives you that confidence."
"He has the secondary pitches that he needs to survive on days he doesn't have his fastball," the scout said. "Most young pitchers can pitch when they have their best stuff, but on the days they don't, they don't know what to do. They're lost. He's got four pitches and the secondary stuff with the cutter and the split to survive those days. He's pretty sharp."
As good as Mize has been on the mound, Thompson has been more impressed with the way he has handled himself off the field. The hype that comes with being the presumptive No. 1 pick can overwhelm some kids, but Mize has done his best to relish the ride as he prepares for the next chapter in his life.
"People have warned me not to get super caught up in it or worry about it," Mize said. "It shouldn't be pressure; it should be enjoyment. People have told me to soak up the time I have left college, give the university everything you've got. But it's also cool that I could start my professional career soon. I'm definitely looking forward to the future but trying to stay in the present as much as possible right now."
Mark Feinsand, executive reporter for MLB.com, has covered the Yankees and MLB since 2001 for the New York Daily News and MLB.com.