We don’t want to make hasty generalizations here, but fans who call for the immediate promotion of top prospects tend to be a bit clueless when it comes to 40-man roster considerations, service time, and the vast talent gulf between the minor leagues and the majors. But this time they’re right. Casey Mize should be on the Detroit Tigers right now.
Tigers starting pitchers currently own the worst ERA in baseball at 6.78. Their 7.17 K/9 rate is the fourth lowest in baseball, their 4.04 BB/9 rate is the sixth highest, and they aren’t throwing enough innings. Tigers starters have accounted for just 48.9% of the team’s total innings this year, the fifth lowest percentage in baseball.
Clearly the rotation needs help. And 60 miles from Comerica Park sits the #1 pick in the 2018 draft, Detroit’s top pitching prospect, and one of the top prospects in all of baseball: Casey Mize.
There’s no excuse for this. But let’s take a look at some potential reasons for Mize’s extended vacation in Toledo.
It’s About Service Time
Holding back a prospect for a few weeks to gain another full year of team control is a problematic and unfortunate reality of modern baseball. The season is already more than a quarter over, though, so this can’t be the issue. If Mize pitched tomorrow the Tigers would still have him under control for at least the next six seasons.
Could the Tigers be waiting to make sure Mize won’t qualify for Super Two status and reach arbitration a year early? It’s certainly possible, though a miserly stunt like that could foster ill will with Mize in the future. The Super Two cutoff is always a bit cloudy, but in a normal 162-game season players typically need to spend about 120 days on the active roster to earn their status. In 2020 that equates to roughly 43 days. As of this writing, there are 46 days remaining in the season, so if Mize suddenly arrives next week we can assume this is the reason.
The Long Game
The final service time consideration is the most detestable. The Tigers could keep Mize in Toledo for all of 2020, and then hold him back for the first few weeks of 2021 to kick the can even farther down the road. If they did that, he wouldn’t become a free agent until after the 2027 season at the earliest, at which point he’ll be entering his age-31 season. There’s no justification for this approach, particularly if the Tigers want to start contending in the near future. If they think Mize is the anchor of their next playoff rotation, he’s going to need to face MLB hitters and build up innings as soon as possible.
The Tigers Don’t Need Him
This is technically true, in a very literal sense of the word “need.” The Tigers currently have enough arms at the MLB level, but they’re really only using three traditional starters in Matthew Boyd, Ivan Nova, and Spencer Turnbull. Michael Fulmer and Daniel Norris have formed a new tandem as the fourth starter, and the fifth starter has essentially been Johnny Wholestaff. There’s no reason Mize can’t come up and be the fourth real starter, or form another tandem with Tyler Alexander as the fifth.
And again, we point you to that 6.78 ERA from the club’s current starters. Merely having other arms isn’t a good excuse to keep one of the best pitching prospects in baseball off the team.
They Aren’t Trying to Win
If there were ever a year to deliberately tank, this is it. There’s no concern bad performance will affect attendance or merchandise sales, and the TV ratings should be fine because they are literally the only game in town (poor Red Wings and Pistons fans).
And yet the Tigers are seemingly trying harder to win this year than in the two previous seasons. They went out and signed five actual major leaguers in the offseason, and a handful of their younger players are showing signs of developmental breakthroughs.
Detroit would probably be fine with falling apart and ending up with another top-five pick in next year’s draft. But this is a strange year, and if nothing else, it would be nice for Mize and the rest of the young players to get a taste of a pennant race, no matter how inauthentic it may feel.
No Room on the Roster
Another technically true argument, but one that is also easily remedied. Mize isn’t currently on the 40-man roster, so someone would need to be removed and exposed to waivers. The current 40-man isn’t overflowing with elite talent, and any one of Sergio Alcantara, Dario Agrazal, Carson Fulmer, Eric Haase, Dawel Lugo, and David McKay, among others, could be removed to make room. And if the Tigers can’t bear to part with any of those players, they could simply move C.J. Cron and his sprained knee to the 45-day Injured List to open a spot for Mize.
Mize Isn’t Ready
This could be a legitimate claim, but it would lead to the more troubling question of “Why Not?” The presumed best player in the 2018 draft has been beaten to the majors by fellow 1st rounders Alec Bohm, Nick Madrigal, Brady Singer, Nico Hoerner, and Kris Bubic, as well as 6th rounder Codi Heuer, 8th-round pick Joey Gerber, and 17th rounder Alex Vesia.
Meanwhile, top prospects for other teams seem to be debuting every day. Luis Robert, Jo Adell, Nate Pearson, Luis Patino, Alec Bohm, Spencer Howard, Nick Madrigal, Evan White, Brady Singer, and Daulton Varsho are all top-100 prospects who have already debuted this season. There’s really no reason for Mize to not be on this list too, unless…
Okay, so perhaps there is one excuse for Mize to not be in Detroit. To be clear, we’ve heard absolutely nothing to suggest Mize is ailing, aching, or hurt in any way. But we also don’t know if he’s fine, because there’s little information coming out of the alternate training site in Toledo. He’s probably fine, but as James Chipman of Tigers Minor League Report points out in his scouting report, Mize has a bit of an injury history:
"…Minor ankle issues in High School, forearm soreness that shut him down as a Sophomore at Auburn, elbow issues and PRP injections after throwing for Team USA in 2017. Some concerns in ‘19 as Mize had two separate IL stints due to shoulder inflammation…"
Again, we have zero evidence he is hurt now, but unless the Tigers have decided to go extremely cheap and hold Mize back to deny a chance at Super Two status, an injury is just about the only explanation we can accept.