Detroit Tigers counting on Casey Mize, fellow top prospects to perform in shortened MLB season

Evan Petzold
Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila met Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Isaac Paredes for the first time as MLB players Sunday on a plane headed to Chicago.

That's when manager Ron Gardenhire got his first look, too.

"They're excited," Avila said. "But just their reaction with us on the airplane, just like what (vice president of player development Dave) Littlefield described when he called them, very calm, cool and collect, and very professional. It tells you about their demeanor."

[ Detroit Tigers call up Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal for MLB debuts ]

Paredes, a third baseman, will be the first to debut, as Avila hinted Gardenhire is going to start him Monday against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. He will be followed by the left-handed Skubal's start on the mound Tuesday and the right-handed Mize's outing Wednesday.

Pitchers Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal watch practice during Detroit Tigers spring training at TigerTown in Lakeland, Fla., Monday, Feb. 17, 2020.

Detroit's rotation now consists of Mize, Skubal, left-hander Matthew Boyd and righties Spencer Turnbull and Michael Fulmer. Avila said Fulmer, recovering from Tommy John surgery, may begin to go further than three innings if his pitch count allows. 

The Tigers (9-10) have lost five consecutive games. 

"There's a lot of things that went into this," said Avila. "No. 1, obviously, we have the greatest need right now, but more importantly, we felt that both pitchers are ready to pitch at this time."

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Avila wants Mize, Skubal and Paredes to remain with Detroit for the remainder of the 2020 season unless their performance indicates they need to return to the reserve squad at Fifth Third Field in Toledo, where they've been since summer camp broke in late July.

"When we bring these guys up, we want them up to stay," Avila said. "So we'll see how it works out."

Here's a look at each prospect: 

RHP Casey Mize

Age: 23.

2019 stats: 8-3, 21 games, 109⅓ innings pitched, 2.55 ERA, 0.942 WHIP, 106 strikeouts, 23 walks between High-A and Double-A.

Organization ranking: No. 2.

Acquired: 2018 draft (first round, No. 1 overall).

As the top pick from two years ago, Mize is the anticipated franchise cornerstone.

Because spring training was cut short due to COVID-19, halting baseball for nearly four months, the Tigers didn't want to push Mize too much. He was held back for the beginning of the season to build up his pitch count, extend his innings and develop his pitch selection.

Detroit Tigers pitcher Casey Mize and catcher Brady Policelli talk to pitching coach Rick Anderson during summer camp at Comerica Park in Detroit, Tuesday, July 14, 2020.

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In summer camp, he struck out Miguel Cabrera (and many others) on three pitches and earned rave reviews at each turn in the organization.

Avila wouldn't say if he considered calling on Mize earlier, but he realized he needed him after unsightly starting pitching performances from Boyd (10.24 ERA), Fulmer (7.56 ERA), right-hander Ivan Nova (8.53 ERA) and opener roles from relievers Tyler Alexander, Rony Garcia and Daniel Norris.

"We went through the players and pitchers we had at the big-league level, trying to see what they can do at that point," Avila said. "Because of, obviously, some circumstances and the additional month of work these guys have put in, I would say (they're) more ready now than it was several weeks ago. It's the proper time."

Tarik Skubal

Age: 23.

2019 stats: 6-8, 24 G, 122⅔ IP, 3.08 ERA, 1.011 WHIP, 179 K, 37 BB between High-A and Double-A.

Organization ranking: No. 5.

Acquired: 2018 draft (ninth round, No. 255 overall).

Because Skubal missed summer camp with a positive COVID-19 test, the Tigers hadn't seen him throw live much between an abbreviated spring training and his arrival in Toledo.

The best-case scenario, Avila said, would have been to give him more time with the reserve squad to increase his pitch-count range.

[ Tigers prospect Tarik Skubal reveals his fight vs. COVID-19: 'It did get scary' ]

But based on the recent injury to Nova, combined with reports on Skubal from the alternate training site, Avila needed him now.

"As far as his overall health and overall stuff — control and command — he's been spot on," Avila said. "Obviously, we would have liked to get him more innings stretched out at this point, and that's the only thing we fell a little bit short (on)."

Tigers pitcher Tarik Skubal thought he knew heat with 82 strikeouts in 42 1/3 Double-A innings last year. And then he got COVID-19.

Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson will keep a closer eye on Skubal, helping him get through his first couple of starts before he's able to let loose. Avila is confident Skubal and Mize will find MLB success, regardless of the respective paths they took.

"While they would have preferred to be here, they went about their business (in Toledo) in the correct manner as far as preparation," Avila said. "They prepared for their bullpens, they prepared for their outings there. Sometimes, they get cut short because of the weather, (but) they go in there and continue to follow up on what they need to work on."

Isaac Paredes

Age: 21.

2019 stats: 127 G, .282 BA, .368 OBP, .416 SLG, 13 HR, 66 RBIs, 61 SO, 57 BB in Double-A.

Organization ranking: No. 6.

Acquired: 2017, from Chicago Cubs.

The Tigers needed Paredes because of his offensive capabilities, forcing fellow infielder Dawel Lugo to be designated for assignment. With first baseman C.J. Cron (four home runs, eight RBIs in 13 games) out with season-ending knee surgery, the team lost its top slugger in the everyday lineup.

Paredes' job is to help fill the void, as typical third baseman Jeimer Candelario continues to play first base. Paredes is expected to rotate at third base with fellow prospect Willi Castro, but he can play shortstop and second base when necessary.

Infielder Isaac Paredes practices during Detroit Tigers spring training at TigerTown in Lakeland, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.

[ How Detroit Tigers prospect Isaac Paredes is handling setback from positive COVID-19 test ]

"We felt we needed some offense, so let's give the kid a chance," Avila said. "He's very young, but he's hit at all levels. Ideally, just like any of these guys we bring up, it would have been better to have a minor-league season.

"But we didn't have that opportunity, so the next best thing was the Toledo squad. He did well, and we feel, hopefully, he can give us some offense the rest of the way."

Paredes missed a portion summer camp with a positive COVID-19 test but was cleared to return July 17. During his four-year career in the minors, he had 93 doubles, six triples, 40 homers and 232 RBIs in 424 games.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here's how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content