Since the team selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, Tigers fans have eagerly awaited Mize’s debut. That wait will come to an end Wednesday, when he finally dons the Old English D and takes the mound against the Chicago White Sox.
Mize was one of those no-brainer choices at 1.1 for the Tigers in the 2018 MLB draft. He was the consensus No. 1 player available after dominating his final two seasons at Auburn.
He made 30 appearances for Auburn across 2017 and 2018, striking out 265 batters in 198.1 innings while posting a WHIP below 0.900, a minuscule walk rate and a sparkling ERA.
The 23-year-old has been similarly successful in the minors, striking out 120 batters in 123 innings with a 0.968 WHIP, a 2.71 ERA and 1.9 walks per nine innings.
Mize currently ranks as the No. 1 right-handed pitcher and the No. 8 overall player in the MLB Pipeline top 100 prospects list. He’s the No. 13 overall player according to Baseball America.
Only this year’s top draft pick, Spencer Torkelson, ranks higher than Mize in the Tigers’ farm system, at No. 7 overall.
The pitch that makes Mize special is his swing-and-miss splitter, which received a 70 grade on a 20-80 scale. He also features an above-average four-seam fastball and slider.
Mize usually sits in the mid-90s with his heater, though he can reach up to 97 mph. What makes him special is his command with all three pitches. That’s why he was the obvious No. 1 pick in 2018 and a candidate to rise through the farm system quickly.
Minor league career
As with any young pitcher, Mize’s potential comes with significant risk.
Last season, Mize was more dominant than the Tigers could have ever hoped through his first 13 appearances -- four in Single-A and nine in Double-A. He allowed just 42 hits and 12 walks in 78 innings, striking out 75 and holding hitters to a .409 OPS.
In that span, Mize faced 284 batters. Only eight of them managed extra-base hits while 75 struck out and 58 reached base. He threw a no-hitter in his first Double-A appearance. The dominance was a sight to behold.
But after he was removed from his June 13 start, Mize missed a month with a right shoulder injury and wasn’t the same when he returned.
In eight games, Mize allowed 38 hits and 11 walks in 31.1 innings. He struck out 31 batters, but his ERA ballooned to 6.61 and hitters posted an .833 OPS against him.
Injury has been the knock on Mize since before the Tigers drafted him, and that’s a major concern for a young pitcher, especially since the buildup to the 2020 season has been so unusual.
The Tigers will likely be very careful with Mize out of the gates. He’s a centerpiece for their future, and they won’t want to jeopardize his health in a 60-game season.
If Mize starts every fifth game after his debut Wednesday, he could make as many as eight appearances this season. If all goes well, there’s no reason for the Tigers to keep him out of the starting rotation heading into 2021.
By all accounts, Mize was deserving of his top 10 prospect status in spring training and summer camp.
He appeared in three games this spring, allowing two runs while striking out six batters in four innings. At summer camp, he looked like one of the most dominant pitchers in the organization while facing his teammates.
It’s impossible to predict how a pitching prospect will fare during his rookie season. Others -- such as Nate Pearson, Luis Patino, Spencer Howard and Brady Singer -- have struggled to find their footing so far in 2020.
Even if he doesn’t dominate MLB hitters this year, the experience will be good for Mize. He has nothing left to prove in the minors, and the Tigers would risk stunting his development by leaving him at the alternate training site all year.
Mize has been the face of the Tigers’ rebuild while fans suffered through years of ugly baseball. Now, they’ll get a glimpse of what could be a light at the end of the tunnel.