DETROIT -- The text message from Casey Mize came as Matthew Boyd was settling into his new routine with his family in Michigan. Mize, the Tigers’ top prospect per MLB Pipeline, wanted to know what Boyd was doing to stay in pitching shape without taxing his arm too much while waiting to see when baseball might resume.
“We just were talking,” Boyd said. “No one really knows what everything's going to look like, so you have to stay ready.”
Boyd and Mize had talked in Spring Training and have a similar grasp of pitch design and analytics. For that matter, Boyd had talked with many of the Tigers’ top pitching prospects in camp before the coronavirus pandemic forced the suspension of Spring Training and sent them their separate ways.
Soon enough, the text from Mize to Boyd blossomed into a group chat that included fellow top pitching prospects Matt Manning, Alex Faedo and Tarik Skubal. Over the past several weeks, they’ve traded ideas on what they’re doing in their workout programs, what they’re doing with their pitches and what they’re working on.
The effort has been helpful for pitching coach Rick Anderson, who has talked one-on-one with every Tigers pitcher in recent weeks.
“He has a big group text with all of them, so he keeps up on it, too,” Anderson said on a Wednesday morning conference call with reporters. “I've talked with Matty more than anyone. He's really taken over for them, and it's pretty neat."
Boyd has said since Spring Training suddenly ended that while this time off presents a challenge, it also presents an opportunity for improvement. Together, even though they’re scattered across the country, this is what they’re trying to do.
“This is a time to get better,” Boyd said. “You're pushing yourself in the weight room, and the one day I'm not in the weight room, that's when I'm on the mound.”
Boyd’s weight room is actually the basement of his Detroit-area home. With Comerica Park unavailable, he was able to borrow some workout equipment and bring it home with him. He reached out to his trainers at Athletic Training Institute in Seattle to come up with a workout plan based around one bullpen session per week. He also bought a bicycle with a trailer to cruise around his neighborhood with his two kids.
As far as throwing, Boyd has had to improvise, finding open parks where he can long-toss around his weekly bullpen session. Mize was able to get access to a training facility in Nashville, Tenn. All the pitchers have someplace to throw.
The bonus for Boyd came in the mail when his parents shipped him the Rapsodo machine from his offseason home in Seattle. So when he throws to Tigers catcher Eric Haase or bullpen catchers Tim Remes or Jeremy Carrell, Boyd can get readings on his pitches and compare them to Spring Training or previous offseasons.
“I've kind of learned some things about my fastball that are really exciting,” Boyd said. “Having my Rapsodo with all my data from spring and past years, it's exciting to see how things have changed. There's some things I did in spring that were maybe done 20 percent of the time, and now you're realizing how to do that more consistently.”
In that sense, this has become an extra offseason. Boyd has relayed that message to the prospects, many of whom already have a strong grasp of pitch design and have talked about it in Spring Training. They talk about pitch release, spin efficiency and movement.
Boyd passes along tips to the kids, but he’s also learning from them.
“I think the biggest mistake I could make is to think I know everything,” he said. “I learned a lot from watching Matt Manning's bullpens [in Spring Training], and stuff I'm trying to incorporate into my delivery. Things Casey Mize does made me more aware of my delivery; the way Tarik stays through his fastball, why he finishes on this part of his foot. It's the same with how Faedo uses his slider. He uses it maybe even more than I used it last year and had a lot of success with it. And through that learning, you improve your own game. It's always a game of growth and self-awareness.”
What he can’t pass along is when they’ll be able to pitch in games again. Nobody has that answer. But he can pass along his optimism.
“We're going to be playing baseball,” he said. “Where? I don't know.”