What to expect from Mize, Skubal in bigs

August 17th, 2020

The future is now for the Detroit Tigers, as the team announced Monday that it will call up top pitching prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, along with infielder Isaac Paredes, to make their Major League debuts this week during the Tigers’ road series against the White Sox.

Given the need for starting pitching across baseball in this year’s shortened Major League season, it seemed like it would be only a matter of time until the Tigers finally tapped into their wealth of young arms on the farm. For both the organization as well as its fans, the arrival of Mize and Skubal marks an important turning point for a system that has spent the last several years rebuilding via trades, international signings and perennially strong Drafts.

As Detroit’s No. 2 prospect and MLB Pipeine’s No. 8 overall prospect, Mize is the more notable of the Tigers’ callups, as he’s set to make his debut a little more than two years after the organization selected him with the No. 1 pick in the 2018 Draft out of Auburn. He’s expected to start for the club on Wednesday, one day after Skubal, the Tigers’ No. 5 prospect, makes his highly anticipated debut.

The Tigers’ first No. 1 overall pick since the club selected Matt Anderson in 1997, Mize signed for $7.5 million following a dominant junior campaign at Auburn and reached Class A Advanced Lakeland that summer during an abbreviated pro debut. When he returned to the Florida State League in 2019 for his first full season, the right-hander needed just six starts (0.88 ERA 0.52 WHIP, 30/5 K/BB in 30 2/3 IP) to convince the Tigers’ front office that he was ready for a greater challenge -- in this case, a promotion to Double-A Erie.

With his prospect stock already soaring, Mize announced his arrival in the Eastern League with a historic performance, firing a nine-inning no-hitter with seven strikeouts against Altoona in his Double-A debut. He went on to allow two earned runs or fewer in seven of his first eight starts with the SeaWolves but departed his June 13 start with right shoulder discomfort and spent the next month on the shelf. When he finally returned to action in mid-July, Mize struggled to replicate, let alone build upon, his pre-injury success, operating with slightly diminished stuff and command. The Tigers opted to shut down their prized young hurler in August for the remainder of the season.

Altogether, Mize went 8-3 with a 2.55 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 21 starts between the two levels in his first full campaign. He compiled 106 strikeouts and 23 walks in 109 1/3 innings and held hitters to a paltry .203 average.

The layoff proved to be exactly what Mize needed, and the 23-year-old looked as sharp as ever this past spring in Tigers big league camp, striking out six batters and allowing three hits across three appearances, including one start.

Skubal, MLB Pipeline’s No. 50 prospect, arguably was even more impressive in his first big league Spring Training. Making two appearances, including one start, before camp was shut down, the 23-year-old southpaw allowed one run on four hits in 4 2/3 innings, striking out six.

The performance validated that Skubal, a ninth-round pick in the 2018 Draft out of Seattle University who ranked as Detroit’s No. 20 prospect ahead of his first full season, was indeed one of baseball’s best left-handed pitching prospects, not to mention perhaps the ’18 Draft’s biggest steal.

Signed to an above-slot deal ($350,000) out of Seattle, where he had pitched to mixed results as a junior after losing the previous year to Tommy John surgery, Skubal immediately offered a glimpse of his potential by posting a 0.40 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 33/4 K/BB in 22 1/3 innings across three levels in his pro debut. That success led the Tigers to send Skubal straight to Lakeland to begin his first full season, where he opened the year pitching alongside Mize as part of a loaded Flying Tigers starting rotation.

Whereas Mize had his ups and downs over the course of the season, Skubal performed from start to finish and ultimately enjoyed one of the best statistical seasons of any Minor League hurler.

After posting a 2.58 ERA with a 1.01 WHIP and 97/17 K/BB over 80 1/3 innings (15 starts) in the Florida State League to earn an early-July promotion to Erie, Skubal proceeded to rack up 82 strikeouts in just 42 1/3 innings with the SeaWolves, notching double-digit strikeouts in seven of his nine starts.

His 179 strikeouts and 13.13 K/9 between the two levels were both the third-best marks in the Minors, and he recorded the highest swinging-strike rate (18.1 percent) among Minor League pitchers who totaled at least 120 innings. Overall, Skubal recorded a 2.42 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and .196 BAA over 122 2/3 frames (24 starts).

Casey Mize, RHP

Fastball (60): When he’s at his best, Mize will typically operate in the 93-96 mph range with his fastball but can also reach back for 97 mph. His heater consistently plays up because he commands it so well to both sides of the plate, painting the corners with ease, as well as down in the zone.

Splitter (70): Dating back to his days as Auburn’s ace, Mize's best pitch always has been his splitter. It’s a nearly elite offering that he throws in the mid-80s with outstanding late diving action that causes it to bottom out as it nears the plate. That heavy movement, on top of Mize’s ability to command the pitch, helps the right-hander induce plenty of whiffs and generate even more weak contact.

Slider/Cutter (60): Mize’s slider, which often takes on more of a cutter-like form, has been his most improved pitch since the outset of his pro career. It looked especially sharp this year during Spring Training, with the 6-foot-3, 220-pound right-hander throwing the mid-80s offering with better late action, both vertical and horizontal, against hitters on both sides of the plate.

Control (60): Mize demonstrates plus control and command in throwing each of his three plus-or-better offerings. He issues few free passes, just 26 in 123 Minor League innings (1.9 BB/9), keeps the ball on the ground (43.9 percent career groundball rate) and in the park (0.5) and is effective against both right- (.201/.256/.273 in ’19) and left-handed (.204/.259/.317) hitters.

Tarik Skubal, LHP

Fastball (60): Skubal’s heater is a dominant pitch that often plays above its plus grade. Back in Spring Training, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound southpaw blew his heater past big league hitters with relative ease, sitting in the mid-90s and topping out at 98 mph on several occasions. The pitch gets on hitters quickly because Skubal employs a high leg kick as part of a deceptive delivery and gets big extension to the plate that in turn gives his fastball excellent late life. He spots it to both sides of the plate and is very effective when he locates his fastball at the top of the zone.

Slider (60): Skubal’s slider gives him a second plus pitch, and the 23-year-old understands how and when to use it. Pitching off his electric fastball, Skubal’s advanced feel for throwing the mid-to-upper-80s offering enables him to land it in the zone or bury it in the dirt when he’s vying for whiffs. He’s particularly adept at back-footing right-handed hitters, which in turn keeps them from sitting on his fastball.

Curveball (55): Skubal's upper-70s curveball is less dynamic and can at times bleed together with his slider, though he still demonstrates a solid overall feel for throwing the pitch. It serves him well in terms of keeping hitters off-balance, and he’s capable of landing it in the zone for strikes.

Changeup (55): While Skubal’s changeup is already viewed by evaluators as above average, many believe it could be a true plus offering for him once it’s fully developed. He masks the pitch by throwing it with fastball-like arm speed and imparts late fading action that allows him to miss both barrels and bats. And while Skubal’s ability to execute the pitch consistently does leave something to be desired, he’s already made some notable strides in that department as a pro.

Control (55): Skubal may have an up-tempo delivery featuring a big leg kick, but the left-hander repeats it well and has shown a knack for flooding the zone with strikes early in his career in addition to his natural bat-missing ability. He averaged 2.5 BB/9 across 145 innings in the Minors and issued 2.7 BB/9 in his first full season, albeit with a rate of 3.8 BB/9 after moving up to Double-A. He’s incredibly tough to square up (6.4 H/9, 0.5 HR/9 in ’19), too, while the fact that Skubal fared better against right-handed hitters (.180/.259/.304) than lefties (.233/.277/.310) last year speaks to the quality of his pure stuff.