It's official! Detroit Tigers take Casey Mize 1st overall in 2018 MLB draft

Anthony Fenech
Detroit Free Press
Casey Mize pitches against LSU on May 18 in Auburn, Ala.

AUBURN, Ala. — In high school, Casey Mize pitched for the Springville Tigers. In college, he pitched for the Auburn Tigers. And in the years to come, if all goes according to plan, Mize will pitch for the Detroit Tigers.

The Tigers selected Mize with the No. 1 overall pick in Monday's 2018 MLB draft, their first top pick in 22 years and their highest since selecting ace Justin Verlander with the No. 2 pick in 2004. 

Mize, 21, has been compared to Verlander, and he is considered one of the safest picks in a draft class without many sure-fire stars. 

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Mize, who was undrafted out of high school, has dominated this season in the SEC, which is considered the best conference in college baseball. He is 10-5 with an 2.95 ERA, and he has struck out 151 batters and walked 12 over 109 2/3 innings. In his final pre-draft start on Saturday against Army in the NCAA regionals, Mize allowed one run over seven innings, striking out 11.

“It means a ton," Mize said on the MLB Network broadcast. "I’m very thankful that the Tigers thought enough of me to take me with their first selection.”

In three seasons since arriving in Auburn, Mize has steadily established himself as one of the best college pitchers in the country.

At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Mize is physical. But what has impressed talent evaluators the most is his supreme command of four pitches that scouts have graded as "plus" or better. He's the type of prospect who could make it to the major leagues in short order. 

Mize’s fastball ranges from 92-96 mph. His split-fingered pitch — which serves as a change-up of sorts — is considered by many the best singular pitch in college baseball. He also throws a slider and cut fastball.

"This guy commands a splitter better than  almost anybody you’ll see," MLB Network analyst Dan O'Dowd said on the broadcast. "He can land that splitter for strikes."

Put together, he was the safest option for the Tigers at No. 1. His performances — which included a no-hitter against Northeastern and a complete game, 15-strikeout effort against Vanderbilt — were too much to ignore. His projection – many scouts see him as a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher — cannot be limited because of his success in the SEC, college baseball’s toughest conference. His polish — some scouts believe he can pitch effectively in the Major Leagues right now — could help accelerate the Tigers’ rebuilding efforts.

Tigers scouts, who have watched every one of Mize’s starts this season, believe they have identified mechanical improvements which could help him pitch at the top of the rotation one day.

“All of us in the Tigers organization are thrilled to select Casey with this pick, and are confident that he will become a pillar in our player development system that’s going to bring winning baseball to Detroit for seasons to come," Tigers general manager Al Avila said in a news release. "Being a college pitcher – especially coming from the Southeastern Conference – we know Casey has seen elite competition before.”

The only hurdles in drafting Mize were his medical history and contractual negotiations. Mize missed three starts with a right forearm strain last season, though famed orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews – who serves as Auburn’s team doctor – has seen no concerns going forward.

There was a thought the Tigers could seek a pay cut with the No. 1 pick, which would afford them an opportunity to spend more lavishly on impact players in the later rounds. But that strategy carried risk – those players might not be there at No. 44, the team’s next pick – considered too risky to pass up on the consensus top player in the draft.

The slot value for the No. 1 overall pick is $8,096,300. Once signed, Mize will enter the Tigers’ farm system as one of their top-ranked prospects, another pitcher along with names like Franklin Perez and Beau Burrows and Matt Manning which the team hopes will become the core of their next great teams.

Contact Anthony Fenech: afenech@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech.

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