Tigers prospect Casey Mize 'really confident,' but not taking anything for granted

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Accepting a decision doesn’t always mean you like it.

The competitor inside Tigers top prospect Casey Mize was not exactly doing cartwheels when the club decided his season was over after his start on Aug. 17 — especially with his teammates at Double-A Erie embroiled in a playoff race.

“I was healthy at the end of the year,” Mize said Tuesday after a short workout. “They just decided to shut me down. Honestly, I don’t blame them.”

Tigers pitching prospect Casey Mize tossed 109.1 innings last season, reaching Double-A Erie

It wasn’t a hard decision for the Tigers to make. In his first full professional season, Mize already had made 21 starts and thrown 109.1 innings. He threw a no-hitter in his first start for Erie. He had a sub-3.00 ERA and a sub-1.00 WHIP. There wasn’t much else he needed to show against Double-A hitters.

More importantly, it was hard to tell if he’d fully recovered from a right shoulder strain that put him on the injured list in early June. He wasn’t dominating hitters the same way when he got back. In his last six starts for Erie, he’d given up 21 runs in 26.2 innings and opponents were hitting .304 against him.

There was no need for the Tigers to keep sending him out there every fifth day if they weren’t sure he was completely healthy. Except Mize desperately wanted to help his team get into the playoffs.

“I want to play baseball and I only get to play every fifth day anyhow,” he said. “It sucked. It would have sucked for anyone in that situation. But it is what it is. They’ve been in this for a lot longer than I have, and they have a good idea of what they’re looking at.

“They decided it was best for me to shut it down. It is what it is. I had to do it. It sucked, but I understood where they were coming from.”

Mize and his longtime girlfriend, fiancé and nutritionist Tali were married this offseason and they’ve settled into a home in Nashville. Conveniently, the house is about 15 minutes away from the Bledsoe Agency’s training facility, as well as Mize’s physical therapist.

Suffice to say, he put in a lot of work on the shoulder and everywhere else so there will be no shutdown this season.

“The shoulder is something we addressed,” he said. “It was another productive offseason, just like last year. The good thing about my second offseason, I could compare and contrast what I did the first offseason.”

One of the alterations he made was not throwing as much. He came into his first big-league camp last year throwing fire right from his first bullpen session. Too hot too soon.

“Yeah, I started throwing a little bit later than I did last year,” he said. "I think that’s going to be a positive thing. As a competitor, you want to be ready to go but you have to realize what really matters. I learned from that.”

Mize did physical therapy three times a week, working all parts of the body, especially the shoulder and hip flexors.

“We touched on everything,” he said. “I feel really good, really confident going into spring training.”

Mize was on the field behind Joker Marchant Stadium on Tuesday, the day before the first official pitchers and catchers work day, stretching and tossing with his rotation mates from last year — Matt Manning (No. 2-ranked prospect), Tariq Skubal (No. 4) and Alex Faedo (No. 9). That foursome is expected to begin the year at Triple-A Toledo, though one or two could make their big-league debuts at some point later in the year.

Mize, though, isn’t trying to get ahead of himself.

“Being a big-leaguer is something I’ve looked forward to forever, so I think the answer is the same as it’s always been,” he said. “I’m close, but there’s still a ton of work to do before now and then. I am looking forward to when that day comes and I am glad to be in a better position when it does.”

Mize said he hasn’t changed his pitch repertoire, still throwing a two-seam and four-seam fastball, with a slider-cutter hybrid, a curveball and a split-fingered fastball. He’s still using slow-motion cameras and Rapsodo technology to refine his pitches, something he is way ahead of the curve with.

“I think that stuff helps in a positive way,” he said. “But you still have to pass the eye test. You still have to make good pitches. There’s a lot you can do with technology to make it better. That’s all I’m trying to do, refine my pitches and make them better.

“The day I stop trying to learn is the day I fall behind. So I am always trying to learn and pick up on things.”

Mize will turn 23 on May 1. The big leagues are within spitting distance now, but if he’s starting to get anxious about it, he’s hiding it well.

“It’s been my lifelong dream and a lifelong goal,” he said. “I’ve been impatient my whole life, not just right now. It’s the same as always. I am just trying to put in the work to make it happen.”


Twitter: @cmccosky