DETROIT -- The Tigers were heading into the home stretch of a long season last September when pitching coach Rick Anderson took a look at a couple of fresh arms one afternoon during a road series against the White Sox. Matt Manning and Beau Burrows were flown from Erie to Chicago as soon as the SeaWolves' season ended on Labor Day.
They weren't auditioning for September callups. They were just throwing side sessions so that Anderson could take a look at their deliveries.
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As Tigers' top prospect Casey Mize prepares for Spring Training, eight months separated from his selection as the top pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, Anderson and the Tigers are taking a similar outlook on his stint in big league camp.
Mize, the 17th-ranked prospect in MLB Pipeline's overall rankings, won't be pushing for an Opening Day roster spot after just 13.2 innings in the Minor Leagues last summer. But what the Tigers' top prospect shows in camp should play a big role in determining his path to the big leagues.
"I'm not going to even touch the delivery," Anderson said of Mize last month at TigerFest. "You just let him get adapted to where he's at. I'm excited to see him, just as I was when Burrows and Manning came up. You get a chance to see these guys, and then you sit down with A.J. Sager [the Tigers' bullpen coach] and the Minor League people and talk about where we're going with them and what their thoughts are. It's going to be fun to see him."
The Tigers' decision to invite Mize to Major League camp is similar to what Detroit did with its previous year's top Draft pick, fellow right-hander Alex Faedo. The Tigers sidelined Faedo for the summer of 2017 after taking him with their first pick, letting him rest his arm following extended work during the University of Florida's run to the College World Series.
Before Faedo embarked on his first pro season, the Tigers gave him a glimpse of Major League pitchers and the routine they build to prepare for a season. He pitched in the Tigers' spring exhibition game against Florida Southern College before heading over to Minor League camp. Expect much of the same for Mize once he joins the team for workouts next week.
Mize has already been getting advice from big league players this offseason. His agents, Dustin and Hunter Bledsoe, represent several other pro players, many of whom work out at the same facility just outside Nashville. Mize moved up there from Auburn after turning pro and spent much of the winter training in a group of 8-10 players.
"I'm picking their brain," Mize said during a visit to Comerica Park in December. "What's big league camp like, if that's a possibility? What's the big leagues like? What's Triple-A like? Just talking about certain things. I think it's just all beneficial, the more information you can get, it's going to help you get through it a little bit smoother. I think that's the biggest benefit."
Most of Mize's focus in workouts was on strengthening, adding weight and muscle to prepare for the longer grind of a pro season. He was up to 225 pounds as of December, while lowering his body fat.
But what everybody wants to see, of course, is the pitching, especially the splitter that sent Southeastern Conference hitters flailing as it dove time and time again. His dominance isn't on raw power so much as movement and command, painting the strike zone and giving opponents few pitches to shrug off.
The opportunity to see that stuff on display at Joker Marchant Stadium, even if only for an inning or two, could be a treat. But Tigers officials also have to decide where the cornerstone of their future rotation will be pitching when the season begins. Mize made four starts last summer at Class A Advanced Lakeland, and could well stick there when the Flying Tigers begin their season in April. But general manager Al Avila hinted at TigerFest that Mize could end up at Double-A Erie.
The SeaWolves' rotation is already expected to include Manning, Faedo and Burrows, all of whom ended last season there. Add in Mize, and Erie could boast four of Detroit's top five prospects in MLB Pipeline's rankings.
"With Mize, we'll get to Spring Training and get him the work that he needs to get," Avila said. "And then at that point, we'll decide where he starts. I think a lot of it may end up having to do with the weather.
"If the weather forecast is favorable, maybe we advance him a little bit faster to start with. If it's not, maybe we start him in a better-weather atmosphere. Because at the end of the day, you don't want to send him to a place where all of a sudden you get snowed out or rained out and then he sits there and he can't pitch. So there's a lot of factors of where he's going to start the season, which right now I can't figure out."
Whatever the forecast for April, the outlook around Tigertown will be bright once Mize takes the mound this spring.