Top Detroit Tigers prospect Casey Mize prepares for 'new challenge' in star-studded Erie rotation

Mize promoted to Double-A Erie after four dominant starts in Single-A Lakeland

Detroit Tigers pitching prospect Casey Mize pitches during a spring training game. (WDIV)

DETROIT – Casey Mize, the top prospect in the Detroit Tigers' organization, is ready for a new challenge after dominating through four starts in Single-A Lakeland and earning a promotion to Double-A Erie.

"I'm very excited," Mize said. "I'm looking forward to joining up with the team and getting going. It's going to be a new challenge for me, so I'm very excited."

Single-A dominance

Single-A hitters were no match for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft. Mize allowed just one run while striking out 25 batters in 26 innings. He retired 76 of the 85 batters he faced.

"To do it four starts in a row is pretty challenging, and obviously I’m very happy with what the numbers are, but I don’t think I’ll ever be surprised by my success," Mize said. "That’s what I strive for."

First overall MLB draft pick Casey Mize of the Lakeland Flying Tigers delivers a pitch during a Florida State League game between against the Dunedin Blue Jays on July 31, 2018, at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, Florida. (Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

While Mize has been dominant so far this season, he said there's still room for improvement. He relied heavily on his fastball during the first four starts and didn't always have his secondary pitches.

"It’s honestly been varying from start to start," Mize said. "Fastball command has been pretty good through all four starts, but the first two starts, the cutter wasn’t there. The last two starts, I basically pitched just on fastball-cutter and just mixed in a slider here and there. It’s honestly varied from start to start, and as a pitcher, you’re not going to have everything, so you’ve got to figure out what’s working. But the main thing that’s been working is fastball command, and then everything else is kind of mix and match throughout all four starts."

Increased workload

This season has been a major improvement for Mize, who struggled in a very short stint with Lakeland in 2018. He made four starts, allowing 13 hits and six runs in 11.2 innings.

Mize said he initially struggled with the transition to pitching every five days, as opposed to once per week during his college career at Auburn.

"Pitching this summer, having to do the summer prepared me for that, because I realized I wasn't ready for it," Mize said. "That was in a very small sample size. I was only throwing two or three innings at a time and I was still sore on the third or fourth day, and it was really tough on me."

There were questions about whether or not the Tigers should have allowed Mize to pitch professionally last season after a long year at Auburn, which advanced to the College World Series.

Detroit Tigers pitching prospect Casey Mize at spring training. (WDIV)

"I think when people ask, 'What was the biggest positive of pitching last summer?' Well, that was it. I knew I needed to figure out a way to bounce back quicker and recover quicker," Mize said. "So we took that plan into the offseason, and I based my training and my throwing off that five-day plan and did what I needed to do to make my body feel better quicker, basically."

Mize's first four starts of the season came on April 4, 9, 17 and 23, so he's had four, seven and five days of rest between starts. The results suggest he's handling the increased workload much better.

"I've had no issues with that so far, which has been great, so I think the plan we came up with has worked, which I'm happy with, and we've just got to keep at it, keep taking care of my body," Mize said. "That's the biggest thing."

'Biggest jump in minor leagues'

This is the first major promotion for Mize, and while he said he plans to talk to other players who have gone through the transition, he hasn't gotten a chance yet.

"That's something that's on my to-do list," Mize said. "From what I've heard so far is, obviously, the hitters are going to be better. A lot of people have said this is kind of the biggest jump in the minor leagues, in a way, that this might be the toughest one."

Even though Mize has seen his strikeouts drop in each start, the underlying numbers suggest he's been even more dominant in his most recent two outings.

He had 15 strikeouts in 11 innings over his first two starts, generating 19 swinging strikes.

In the two most recent starts, he had just 10 strikeouts in 15 innings, but generated 27 swinging strikes. His swinging strike percentage increased from 13.5 percent in the first two starts to 15.8 percent in the latter two.

As he moves up to Double-A, Mize hopes to continue missing bats.

Detroit Tigers pitching prospect Casey Mize throws a bullpen during spring training. (WDIV)

"The main thing I've heard is the hitters don't chase as much out of the zone, so you've just got to pitch in the zone, which could be a challenge," Mize said. "That's probably the biggest thing, that hitters are taking more pitches and trying to get their pitch to hit instead of just being free swingers, is what I've heard. But I'm definitely going to do more research and reach out to people who have played at this level and beyond to see what I can expect."

One of the positives about selecting Mize with the top pick in the draft was his arsenal appeared to already be near-MLB ready. He isn't expected to spend several years in the minor leagues before reaching Detroit, if his development goes as planned.

But even on a fast track to the big leagues, Mize knows Double-A is an important stop along the way.

"The mindset is what it's always been: to try to perform and try to get better every time I go out there," Mize said. "Minor leagues are a thing for a reason. You have to develop here, so that's my plan. There's going to be adjustments at every level. There's going to be some challenges, and so I'm looking forward to facing that head-on, but I definitely want to succeed as well.

"I'm going to go out there and try to win every time I pitch. I know there might be some challenges coming my way, and I just have to be able to handle that. My mindset is just to go out there and continue to try to do what I do, and that's compete and win. That's really about it."

Star-studded pitching rotation

With Mize, the Erie SeaWolves' starting rotation is being lauded as one of the best at any minor league level.

Matt Manning -- the No. 2 prospect in the Tigers' organization and No. 49 prospect in baseball -- is the current ace of the staff. He's struck out 32 batters in 22.2 innings while allowing just 10 hits, four walks and four runs.

Pitcher Matt Manning of the Detroit Tigers and the U.S. Team works the fourth inning against the World Team during the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Nationals Park on July 15, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The team's No. 10 prospect, Alex Faedo, is also in the SeaWolves' rotation. In his last start, he pitched seven spotless innings to lead the team in a combined no-hitter.

"It’s very exciting," Mize said. "Being part of that rotation is really cool. I know what we could be capable of.”

Mize, Faedo and Manning are the organization's last three first-round picks.

Erie SeaWolves pitcher Alex Faedo fires 7 no-hit innings as part of a combined no hitter on April 24, 2019. (Erie SeaWolves/Twitter: @Erie_SeaWolves)

No. 16 prospect Logan Shore and No. 26 prospect Gregory Soto round out the rotation.

Moving north

Mize said he learned about his promotion Wednesday night before it was officially announced Thursday. He has a flight scheduled Friday to join the SeaWolves.

"I'm still in Lakeland right now, so I have plenty of time to pack up all my things, which is great,
Mize said. "I'm going to get my car shipped. My fiance's already lined up an apartment for me to live in, so she's basically taken over all that. She's going to move all the furniture from down south up there, so luckily I have her and my family to kind of take care of all the small details and my job is just to be with the team and play baseball."

When asked about the coldest weather he's pitched in, Mize cited college games against LSU and Kentucky, saying those starts "weren't fun."

He's scheduled to make his first Double-A start Sunday against the Trenton Thunder, Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees.