Detroit Tigers' Casey Mize didn't know he'd be MLB draft's No. 1 pick
AUBURN, Ala. — Casey Mize sat front and center, between his mom and dad, surrounded by his family members and teammates and, truth be told, he had no clue.
When he sunk into a plush chair in the Auburn athletics auditorium on Monday night, unlike many top picks in years past, Mize wasn’t aware he was the pick at No. 1 overall in the MLB draft.
“They wanted me to enjoy the moment,” he said. “It was good.”
Mize, who played in high school for the Springville Tigers and starred in college for the Auburn Tigers, is now a major piece of the future for the Detroit Tigers. His selection Monday had been expected, and it became official when MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced him as the Tigers’ top choice in this year’s draft.
The room went wild, and Mize went silent, sinking his head into his hands.
“I can’t put it into words,” he said. “Probably the best moment of my life. I think everything worked out perfectly, honestly. I think it started yesterday when we won the regional, kind of set it up for me to have this. When it comes to this moment, it was everything I’ve dreamed of.”
Fans react:Tigers select Casey Mize No. 1
The junior right-hander separated himself from the pack by dominating the Southeastern Conference this season. The Tigers saw more than enough from him to make him their first top pick since taking Matt Anderson in 1997 and their highest since taking Justin Verlander at No. 2 in 2004.
Mize, 21, has been compared to Verlander, and he was considered one of the safest picks in a draft without many sure-fire stars.
Mize, who was undrafted out of high school, has a 10-5 record and 2.95 ERA this season. He has struck out 151 batters and walked only 12 over 109 2/3 innings. In his final pre-draft start on Saturday against Army in an NCAA regional, Mize allowed one run over seven innings and struck out 11.
Asked what kind of pitcher and person Tigers fans should expect to see in the future, Mize said, “Hopefully a pretty good pitcher and hopefully a better guy. I think I pride myself in trying to be a good person before player. Obviously, I’m going to try to be a great player, I’m going to do everything I can and work extremely hard to be the best I can be for a long time. But along the way, I’m just going to try to be a good example and good person.”
Mize, at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, is a physical player. But what impressed talent evaluators most was his supreme command of four pitches that 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 is a change-up of sorts — is considered by many the best pitch in college baseball. He also throws a slider and cut fastball. Put together, he was the safest option for the Tigers at No. 1 overall.
“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 statement.
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 all of Mize’s starts this season, believe they have identified mechanical improvements that could help him pitch at the top of the rotation one day.
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 renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, 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 allow them to spend more on impact players in the later rounds. But that strategy carried risk — there was no guarantee those players would be there when they picked at No. 44 — and the reward wasn't enough to pass on the consensus top player in the draft.
The slot value for the No. 1 pick is $8,096,300. Once signed, Mize will enter the Tigers’ farm system as one of their top-ranked prospects, joining promising pitchers like Franklin Perez, Beau Burrows and Matt Manning, which the team hopes will become the core of their next great teams.
But before Mize can focus on the Tigers, there is a super regional matchup awaiting him in the NCAA tournament, one which he is relieved to pitch in without the pressures of trying to become the No. 1 pick.
“I am relieved,” he said. “There’s some pressure that comes with it and there’s a lot of stuff that goes with it but I did my best to enjoy it and I think I did enjoy it but now that it’s over, I’m pretty happy.”
Contact Anthony Fenech: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech.