LAKELAND, Fla. -- Michael Fulmer and Daniel Norris wrapped up their throwing sessions quickly. Relief prospect Zac Houston was done soon after. By the middle of the morning Tuesday, seven of the eight bullpen mounds on the back fields at Tigertown were empty.The one mound that still had a pitcher
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Michael Fulmer and Daniel Norris wrapped up their throwing sessions quickly. Relief prospect Zac Houston was done soon after. By the middle of the morning Tuesday, seven of the eight bullpen mounds on the back fields at Tigertown were empty.
The one mound that still had a pitcher on it had an audience.
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As Casey Mize threw, pitching coach Rick Anderson stood just over his right shoulder, watching as intently as the slow-motion camera positioned behind the Tigers' top prospect. The catchers who weren't receiving his pitches stopped to watch last year's No. 1 Draft pick before heading to batting practice.
It was the first of many crowds the Tigers hope Mize draws for them.
"He was good," Anderson said afterward. "He was fun to watch."
Eight months after Detroit selected him with the top pick in the MLB Draft, Mize is in big league camp for Spring Training as a non-roster invite so he can observe Major League pitchers and the routines they build to prepare for the season. With his talent, though, he has many big leaguers observing him.
As thrilling as that might have been, Mize said he is looking forward to the moment a Major League hitter steps into the box, staring back at him.
"I was thinking about that the other day," Mize said. "It's going to be really cool. It doesn't matter to me if it's Spring Training or not. It'll be the first time for me. I'm extremely excited for that. It'll be a lot of fun. Can't wait."
Tuesday's moment, the sight of Mize in a big league camp for the first Spring Training of his pro career, was the product of a long time of planning after he joined the organization last summer. The Tigers gave him just enough innings in Class A ball in July and August to get a taste, then shut him down.
From there, Mize started on a plan to get ready for the spring. He worked out at a facility near his offseason home just outside Nashville, Tenn., with several other pro players who share the same agent, the Bledsoe brothers.
"We had a plan early in the fall, right after the season ended," Mize said. "We stuck pretty good to that, and so things lined up pretty well."
He reported to Spring Training this week having already thrown a few mound sessions, so he could work on pitching rather than simply building up his arm. Once he arrived in Lakeland, the work continued.
As much as Tuesday's bullpen session impressed Anderson, what the longtime coach has seen from Mize off the mound has left a bigger first impression.
"You come in early, and he's one of the first ones here," Anderson said. "He's working his butt off. [Monday] I called him over and talked to him about things and I said, 'You're going to lead by example by what you do here.'
"You watch him work, and he gets after it. He's focused and driven. And then to get to see him throw on a mound is an even bigger bonus. I'm sure he's got the butterflies going a little bit with his first camp, and a big league camp. … But he's one of the first ones in and he's working his butt off every day. I like to see that."
Mize has been more focused on seeing what others do.
"I'm really excited just to get the opportunity to be out here and learn from these guys," he said. "I think that's the biggest thing for me; to just pick their brains and watch how they go about their business and pick up on some things they do that I like. These guys are playing at the highest level, and that's the goal for me. They're kind of showing me how it's done, really, so I'm going to pay attention to them."
So far, the only sign of nerves that Mize has let on might be the speed at which he was talking as he answered questions from reporters. His youth, beyond the fresh face, might be more evident in the 21-year-old's ability to embrace the new technology that is increasingly present around camp this spring. When he made a tweak to his slider this offseason, he worked with it in front of advanced cameras to figure out the spin efficiency.
"It's very interesting," he said. "I mean, honestly, I think it's the most efficient way of pitch design, to develop a pitch. The numbers are right there in front of you. You can see the flight of the ball, the path of the ball, to know how it's playing off your other pitches.
"We have these slow-motion cameras where I can see the last thing the ball touches in my hand. I can see so much spin. I can see the way the ball kicks out of my hand, the rotation and things like that. Spin axis and efficiency is stuff I've kind of really bought into, because it's just better pitches. When you figure that stuff out, they really are. These guys that have really good breaking balls, really good fastballs, you start looking at the numbers and it makes sense why. They don't lie."
As the Tigers rebuild not only their farm system but their player development to the new age, Mize has a chance to become the face of it. He'll still get an opportunity to test out his pitches the old-fashioned way, seeing how big league hitters to react to them this spring. How many outings he makes before heading to Minor League camp isn't clear yet.
"It'll be fun with him. We'll work him in some games," Anderson said.
From there, Mize will be off to one of the Minor League stops. For all the buildup to what Lakeland would be like for him for the next few weeks, the SEC product has also prepared himself for the potential of April weather in Erie, Pa.
"They haven't told me [what it's like]," Mize said with a smile, "but some players have, so I think I have a grasp on that. That'll be new to me."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.