'Time to be excited': Tigers call up Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal to make MLB debuts this week
Chicago — We’ve been waiting a couple of years to say this and you’ve been waiting longer to hear it: The future is now for the Detroit Tigers.
General manager Al Avila made the landmark announcement Monday from a hotel room in Chicago that three of the club’s top six prospects were being promoted to the big leagues: Pitchers Casey Mize (rated No. 2 by MLBPipeline) and Tarik Skubal (No. 5) and third baseman Isaac Paredes (No. 6).
“I’m excited and I’m nervous at the same time,” Avila said, chuckling during a Zoom video interview. “I’ll be on the edge of my seat, as I’m sure many of our fans will be. It’s an exciting time for the organization to see three top prospects come up here and start competing.
“It’ll be a good process and we’ll see a few more guys coming along in the not too distant future.”
Avila said Paredes, just 21 years old, will be in the starting lineup against the White Sox on Monday. Skubal, a left-hander who missed summer camp battling COVID-19, will get the start on Tuesday. Mize, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, is scheduled to start on Wednesday.
This isn’t meant to be a brief show-and-go for these players, Avila said. It's their time.
“It’s performance-based from here on out,” he said. “We said it before, when we bring these guys up, we want them up here to stay. We will see how it works out.”
Injuries played a role in the timing of the call-ups, for sure. The Tigers’ rotation is a mess right now, as evidenced by an MLB-worst 7.46 ERA. Veteran starters Jordan Zimmermann and Ivan Nova are on the injured list, as is right-hander Dario Agrazal, who was expected to be the No. 5 starter coming out of camp.
“A lot of things went into it,” Avila said. “Obviously, No. 1 is we have a great need. But more importantly, we feel both pitchers are ready to pitch at this level…We felt they were ready, and the need arose.”
The season-ending knee injury to first baseman C.J. Cron hastened Paredes’ call.
“We all feel he’s a well-rounded player and he was hitting the ball really well in Toledo,” Avila said. “He has good power and he plays good defense at third base. He is also versatile, coming up as a shortstop. But we’re adding a bat. With Cron out, we felt we needed some offense. So let’s give him a chance.
“He’s very young, but he’s hit at all levels.”
Avila said that in addition to the daily reports he received from the coaching staff at the alternate training site in Toledo, he got glowing recommendations from two of his advisors — Alan Trammell and Jim Leyland.
“There’s always temptation to do a lot of things,” Avila said when asked why the move, particularly to bring up one of the pitchers, wasn’t made sooner. “For us, it was really important to get them more work. And, we had to sift through the guys we have who’ve been here before and had experience. We wanted to see what they could do.”
With the shortened spring training, the three-month shutdown and a suboptimal month of intrasquad games and live batting practice sessions, the Tigers wanted the young pitchers to extend camp — especially Skubal, who spent camp in COVID-19 protocol.
“It was important that those guys got more work before we rushed them up here,” Avila said. “They got close to a month of work. They are ready now. This is the proper time.”
David Littlefield, the Tigers' vice president of player development, notified all three players Sunday night and they flew with the team to Chicago.
“Gardy (manager Ron Gardenhire), Andy (pitching coach Rick Anderson) and I met them on the airplane last night and talked to them,” Avila said. “They’re excited but their reaction was — well, it’s what Littlefield described as, ‘very calm, cool and collected.’
“They were very professional. It tells you about their demeanor.”
While Skubal will likely be on a pitch count for a few starts, Mize was believed to be stretched out beyond five innings at Toledo.
“These guys are very well-rounded as people,” Avila said. “They are hard-working and talented. The repertoire of pitches they have, the quality of pitches they have, the whole combination — they bring a lot to the table.”
The Tigers rotation going forward, then, will be Matthew Boyd (who started Monday), Skubal, Mize, Spencer Turnbull and Michael Fulmer. Left-handers Daniel Norris and Tyler Alexander will stay in the bullpen, possibly working in tandem with Skubal and Fulmer. What happens when Nova comes back remains to be seen.
“Skubal has been very sharp,” Avila said. “The best-case scenario would have been to extend him a little more (in Toledo) so he could go longer in games. But as far as overall health, overall stuff, control and command, he’s been spot-on.
“We would’ve liked to get him more innings, but Gardy and Andy will look after and get that straightened out. As long as he pitches with the quality we seen down there, he’ll be just fine.”
Two other top pitching prospects remain in Toledo — right-handers Matt Manning and Alex Faedo, both first-round picks. Faedo is working his way back after missing camp after testing positive for the virus.
“Manning needs more time,” Avila said. “He’s working on control and command. He made some mechanical tweaks, so it’s going to be a little bit longer for him. Faedo, too, he’s working on stuff, too. Trying to regain his strength, also.”
The Tigers made one corresponding move Monday. They designated infielder Dawel Lugo for assignment. Lugo, who the Tigers acquired in the J.D. Martinez trade in 2017, had appeared in just nine games this season after losing the third base battle to Jeimer Candelario.
That move opened a spot on the active roster for Paredes (who is on the Tigers’ 40-man roster). Skubal will be added to the 40-man roster before his start on Tuesday. The Tigers will have to make another move Wednesday to make room for Mize.
“I want to temper expectations but not the excitement,” Avila said. “We are all excited. Just the expectations at the beginning, it takes a while for guys to ease into their routine and find their way. But the talent is there. We’re getting that first wave and it’s a time to be excited.”