“Who’s That Guy?” is a weekly Yahoo Sports feature highlighting a baseball player who you should definitely be watching this week. We’re not talking about the Mike Trouts and Max Scherzers of the world, instead it’s new and interesting players. Maybe a hot prospect who just got called up or a veteran role player having a moment.
Baseball loves prospects. Pitching prospects are even more precious. Teams go to great lengths to nurture them and unleash them at the right moment. Their arrival, in some cities, brings the type of excitement that might warrant a parade.
When a big-time pitching prospect makes his debut, as Casey Mize of the Detroit Tigers is doing Wednesday, it’s one of those moments where fans all stop and watch. Will he deliver on the hype? Will he be another much-heralded arm who was never as good as everybody said?
That’s the type of drama that makes us tune in.
Fact is, we can’t make that ruling after one start. Look around the game — Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg (and the list goes on) didn’t deliver on their promise right away. But damn if we didn’t tune in to see Strasburg’s first MLB start.
Mize, a 6-foot-3 righty, arrives in Detroit with perhaps not quite as much pageantry as Strasburg, but some of the same pedigree. He was a star in college, then a No. 1 overall pick in the draft. He’s Detroit’s No. 2 overall prospect and the No. 2 pitching prospect in MLB behind MacKenzie Gore of the Padres.
And Wednesday night, when he faces the White Sox in Chicago, we get our first glimpse of what Mize looks like in the big leagues.
Why do you need to know him?
No pitcher taken with the No. 1 overall pick has made an impact in the big leagues since Cole, and he was selected way back in 2011. Since then, we’ve seen Mark Appel and Brady Aiken get picked No. 1 overall and not make the big leagues. In fact, both stepped away from baseball. It shows the pressure and expectations that come with being this type of a pitching prospect — it’s like being a QB1 at an SEC school.
Point being: A prodigious pitcher like Mize doesn’t come along too often.
Mize, so far, has done everything to deliver on his promise. He has a 2.71 ERA through 26 starts in the minors since 2018. He threw a no-hitter in 2019 in his Double-A debut. In six starts in Single-A last season, his ERA was 0.88. All told, he had a 2.55 ERA across Single-A and Double-A last season, averaging about a strikeout per inning.
What’s promising about Mize is the depth of his arsenal. He throws five pitches, including a mid-90s fastball and a splitter that scouts believe is his best pitch. He also throws a slider and a cutter — he’s able to give hitters a lot of different looks, evaluators say, and command the pitches better than a typical 23-year-old.
Where did he come from?
Mize and Strasburg share another interesting bit of history: They went from being undrafted high school players to No. 1 overall picks. Raised in Alabama, Mize pitched well in high school but committed to the University of Auburn. At Auburn, he became the ace.
In 2017, his sophomore year, Mize went 8-2 with a 2.04 ERA. The following year, he was Auburn’s ace, racking up 156 strikeouts in 114 innings to go along with a 3.30 ERA.
Is he a one-hit wonder?
Oh no, not at all. In fact, he’s just Part 1 of the Tigers’ future. Mize was called up along with Tarik Skubal, another of their much-anticipated young pitchers. Skubal, a lefty, pitched Tuesday night for Detroit. He’s their No. 5 overall prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
Detroit also has this year’s No. 1 overall draft pick, first/third baseman Spencer Torkelson, who already ranks as the No. 7 prospect in all of baseball, according to MLB Pipeline, and is tops in the Tigers’ system.
The rebuild is bright in Detroit, with Mize pegged as the ace of the future and perhaps MLB’s next great pitching arm. After three straight seasons losing 98 games or more, Tigers fans are due some excitement. Now it’s here.
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