Auburn RHP Mize goes from undrafted to possible top pick
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Casey Mize knows why he wasn’t drafted out of high school as a raw, skinny kid with a limited arsenal of reliable pitches.
“Because I wasn’t good enough,” he said.
Three years and 40 pounds later, the Auburn right-hander is good enough to be regarded as a potential No. 1 overall pick in the June draft.
Mize (9-2, 2.25 earned run average) has good command of four pitches with a fastball hovering in the mid-90s. He’s a solid 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, too.
But coming out of Springville (Alabama) High School, he probably wouldn’t have drafted himself either.
“I definitely was not good enough,” Mize said Thursday. “I realized that and I was fine with that. I was just a smaller guy, very raw, didn’t know anything about pitching. Just had a good arm. Luckily, I got to Auburn, learned some things, put some weight on, got stronger. I had a chance to be around some really good coaches and really good teammates and they’ve helped mold me into the player I am today.”
Mize has thrown a no-hitter against Northeastern and matched the school record with 15 strikeouts against Vanderbilt last Friday. He has helped Auburn move into contention in the Southeastern Conference Western Division and thrived even with a few dozen major league scouts — and the occasional general manager or other top executive — scrutinizing his every pitch.
“I marvel at how he has handled this situation because it doesn’t matter what age you are, this would be a lot of potential distractions and he’s handled it with an unbelievable amount of grace and maturity,” Auburn coach Butch Thompson said. “I’m impressed.”
Perhaps the most impressive numbers for Mize: He has struck out an SEC-leading 119 batters this season while issuing just seven walks. His ratio of 17 strikeouts per walk ranks second nationally. Mize, who walked only nine batters as a sophomore, has had seven starts where he hasn’t issued any walks.
“I’m very competitive and I don’t want to give out free stuff to hitters,” he said. “I’m going to make them earn it. Coach Thompson says somebody wins every pitch. When he said that to me, it kind of just stuck with me and I’m just out there trying to win every pitch, which allows me to throw strikes.”
A former Mississippi State assistant, Thompson has had seven of his pitchers play in the major leagues since 2014. He doesn’t think any of them could match Mize’s control.
“All these guys have got to be pretty good or they couldn’t be major league players but he’s at another level,” he said. “He has great authority over the baseball. Every pitch is so good.”
That includes the cut fastball Mize added a couple of weeks before the season, giving him what Thompson regards as four “above average major league pitches.” It’s a long way from high school, when Mize remembers only feeling truly confident in his fastball.
The SEC has only had four No. 1 overall draft picks: Vanderbilt’s Dansby Swanson (2014, Arizona); Tennessee’s Luke Hochevar (2006, Kansas City), LSU’s Ben McDonald (1989, Baltimore) and Vandy’s David Price (Tampa Bay). Arkansas’s Jeff King was a top pick in 1986 before the Razorbacks joined the SEC.
Florida right-hander Brady Singer has also gotten attention as a potential No. 1 pick but he hasn’t come so far as Mize. Singer was a second-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015.
Mize said dealing with the draft buzz hasn’t been that hard.
“I’m just trying to enjoy my teammates, enjoy being a part of this Auburn program,” he said. “This place has been so good for me and given me a ton. I don’t want to look forward any. I just want to be in the present and compete for Auburn and try to get outs and try to get wins for this team.
“We’ve all worked hard together and I think everybody deserves my full attention on what we’re doing right now.”