The lessons Detroit Tigers prospect Casey Mize discovered from watching film

Evan Petzold
Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Top pitching prospect Casey Mize went back to the drawing board this offseason, carrying the weight of poor command, questionable pitch selection and a frustrating MLB debut season in 2020

The 23-year-old, who prepares like a veteran, began in the film room.

"Honestly, I rewatched a bunch of games," Mize said Wednesday. "I replayed through my head what I could have done differently, and if the catcher and I made the correct decision."

[ Tarik Skubal learns Casey Mize's splitter: 'I want it to be a plus pitch' ]

It shouldn't be too difficult for Mize to boost his command. Based on his college and minor league careers, his ability to pound the strike zone is phenomenal. Sequencing his pitches might take some additional work with Detroit Tigers pitching coach Chris Fetter, but he is on the right track. 

And the former No. 1 overall pick has a new mentality this year in spring training.

"The last two times I was here, it was just to show face, gain some experience, be around the guys and try to get better," Mize said. "But this time is definitely different. I have an opportunity to make the team. It's just up to me to compete, perform and take it."

OBSERVATIONS: One of the smallest prospects shows up big, and much more from the third day of full-team workouts

Detroit Tigers pitchers Derek Holland, Casey Mize, Ian Krol, and Tarik Skubal warm up during spring training Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, on the Tiger Town practice fields at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida. Monday was the first day position players joined pitchers and catchers for spring training.

Here's what he kept tabs on while cycling through videos: If the batter's swing is late, what should Mize use as his next pitch? And if his swing is early, then where does Mize attack? Also, he focused on the comfortability level of his opponents, trying to understand how to keep them off balance.

There were two lessons he took to heart.

It's never as bad as it seems.

And it's never as good as it seems.

CASEY'S PLAN: Why Mize knows exactly what he needs to improve

The 6-foot-3 righty reflected on two of his starts — Sept. 11 against the Chicago White Sox and Sept. 23 against the Minnesota Twins — to back up his point.

The former went well; the latter did not.

He shredded through the powerful White Sox lineup during the fifth start of his career, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning. He finished with two earned runs, one hit, two walks and five strikeouts in 5⅓ innings. Still, the Tigers lost by one run.

ANOTHER SPLITTER: Tarik Skubal learns Casey Mize's best offering: 'I want it to be a plus pitch'

NEW ARM: Why former All-Star Julio Teheran believes his career revival starts with Tigers

"It's never really as good as it seems," Mize said. "The game was really flowing, and I got a really good start. You can take some negatives away from that, as well, and learn."

In his seventh and final start of the year, he gave up six earned runs to the Twins across 4⅔ innings, allowing five hits and two walks with four strikeouts. Again, the Tigers fell short by one run.

MORE OBSERVATIONS: Miguel Cabrera shows ultimate respect to prospect; Spencer Torkelson shows frustration

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"It's never as bad as it seems," Mize said. "I'm a couple of pitches away there from working out of some trouble."

Mize finished his first year in the majors with a 6.99 ERA, 1.482 WHIP, 26 strikeouts and 13 walks across 28⅓ innings. In two minor league seasons, he had a strong 2.71 ERA, 0.967 WHIP, 120 strikeouts and 26 walks, tossing a combined 123 innings in 26 starts.

"I've known this from the past, but it's just a reminder to never get too high, too low," Mize said. "Just stay right in the middle and learn from the success and failure as much as you can and move forward."

HINCH TALKS MIZE: What makes Tigers manager AJ Hinch certain Casey Mize will bounce back

Pitch selection is an important topic to Mize, too. He wants to throw his four-seam fastball up in the strike zone more often, doing so earlier in counts, to increase the success of his nasty splitter and secondary pitches down the zone.

There are a few more adjustments Mize is making on the mound, yet he doesn't want to give too much away.

"I'm trying some new things on the mound that I've never done in the past," Mize said. "Some of them are feeling great, they're really easy. Some others are going to take a little work. It's interesting, to be able to work on those things and just see what clicks, see what doesn't.

"As pitchers, we constantly need to evolve."

Responding to Kelenic's situation

The Seattle Mariners are trying to clean up an awkward situation, where former president Kevin Mather, recently resigning from his position, admitted to manipulating the service time of prospect Jarred Kelenic.

Kelenic's agent, Brodie Scoffield, told USA Today that had the prized up-and-comer signed a long-term contract extension nearly 14 months ago, he would have made his MLB debut in 2020.

USA TODAY: Seattle Mariners prospect Jarred Kelenic says team is punishing him for refusing to sign contract extension

Instead, Kelenic — after declining the deal — spent last year at the Mariners' alternate training site, and Mather said he would have sent him to Triple-A Tacoma for a month to start 2021 (long enough to gain another year of team control). He is the No. 4 prospect in all of baseball, according to MLB Pipeline, just one spot below Tigers third baseman Spencer Torkelson.

"I need to tread carefully here," Mize said. "I'm not really in too much of a position to speak. I need to earn more time and experience before I need to speak out against anybody like that. It's unfortunate to see those comments."

"But is it a surprise? Not really."

Mize did not say if he has ever engaged with the Tigers in talks of a long-term contract.

FROM 2020 SEASON: Why didn't Tigers call up Casey Mize? A deeper look at the factors at play

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.