In a regular minor-league baseball season, Toledo Mud Hens fans would more than likely have been treated to watching the Detroit Tigers’ top prospect, Casey Mize, pitch at Fifth Third Field.
Now, however, with a minor league season looking more and more unlikely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mud Hens fans could miss out on Mize altogether, as he could potentially be used on the Tigers’ expanded roster should MLB have a season at some point. Or he could potentially debut in 2021 with the Tigers and skip Triple-A Toledo.
Mize was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft and is the No. 7 ranked prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline.
While disappointing to Toledo fans, it would be a scenario that is somewhat familiar. Historically, top Tigers prospects and top draft picks have not played in Toledo prior to making the big leagues with Detroit.
Since 1987, just one of the seven Tigers prospects to rank in the top 25 prospects in the MLB played in Toledo on their climb to Detroit. That was Nicholas Castellanos (No. 21), who spent most of the 2013 season with Toledo before a September call-up to the Tigers.
Eric Munson (No. 23 in 2000), Jeremy Bonderman (No. 20 in 2003), Justin Verlander (No. 8 in 2006), Cameron Maybin (No. 6 in 2007), Rick Porcello (No. 21 in 2008 and 2009), and Jacob Turner (No. 21 in 2011) were top 25 MLB prospects that never made a stop in Toledo before Detroit or prior to being traded.
Of the Tigers’ top 10 draft picks since 1987, only Tony Clark (No. 2 in 1990) and Seth Greisinger (No. 6 in 1996) played in Toledo before Detroit.
Matt Anderson (No. 1 in 1997), Munson (No. 3 in 1999), Verlander (No. 2 in 2004), Maybin (No. 10 in 2005), Andrew Miller (No. 6 in 2006), and Turner (No. 9 in 2009( were top 10 picks that didn’t play in Toledo prior to reaching the major leagues.
While several factors contribute to this fact, including trades to other organizations, longtime Toledo Mud Hens broadcaster Jim Weber says while many of the top prospects didn’t make a stop in Toledo, it’s important to remember that those players are an extremely small sample of players to play in the major leagues.
“It doesn’t happen too often, but it does happen once in a while,” Weber said. “Sometimes if they are that good, they will give them a shot. It doesn’t happen a lot, because usually you have to prove yourself at Triple-A. The Triple-A level is pretty close to the major leagues. … If they skip Triple-A, that’s what you call a fast-track to the big leagues.
“…If you look all the way through the years, especially in pitching, there is not a lot of them. There’s the guys like the Verlanders that were so good that they got there in a hurry. Most of them get to our level and a for a lot of them, this is the failure level. Sometimes they can’t pitch very well here so they never make it.”
Mize was likely to start this season at Toledo. which would have been rare. Now, however, his focus has shifted to getting the necessary innings to be ready for the 2021 season, when he could start with the Tigers.
A proposal from the Major League Baseball owners reportedly would expand game rosters to 30, with another 20 players on a taxi squad consisting of top minor-league prospects, producing 50 total players available per organization.
Mize would most likely be on the taxi squad.
“If I’m not a part of that 50-man and you have dreams of 2021 being good, it would be a really tough scenario if I only get 30 innings this year in scrimmages or whatever that may be and then expect to go throw 150 in the big leagues,” Mize said this week. on MLB Network Radio. “I hope there is a chunk of innings I can get at the big league level this year to prepare for next season.
“Our rebuild and our timeline is pushing toward that 2021. I just think that I’m going to need a chunk of innings. A lot of guys are going to need a chunk of innings. You can’t have guys throw 50 and then expect them to go throw 200. Everybody is going to have to get as many innings as possible, which is going to be the challenge.
“…With the state of the Tigers and the state of our rebuild, you need to get innings as much as you can to the people who are going to be a part of it down the road, because I think that’s what really matters.”
Along with Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal, and Alex Faedo, Mize is part of a young pitching group that was poised to pitch in Toledo in 2020. Now, it’s up in the air whether the talented foursome will pitch for Toledo at all.
“All the top prospects, we were going to see them this year, and they would have pitched here,” Weber said. “It’s possible they could have been called up, especially since the Tigers are not that strong right now. They definitely would have been here, and it would have been a heck of a pitching staff to see.”