Tigers Prospect Primer: Mize ready to shine

Top overall pick leads loaded staff; Stewart shows staying power

Drafted first overall last June, Casey Mize made his Class A Advanced debut the following month. (Tom Hagerty/MiLB.com)

By Gerard Gilberto / MiLB.com | March 22, 2019 10:00 AM

Some players are on the verge of stardom, others are entering a crucial phase of their development and still others are getting their first tastes of full-season ball. With the 2019 season approaching, MiLB.com takes a look at the most intriguing prospects from each MLB organization.

Shining star: Casey Mize, RHP

A system built on pitching, particularly college right-handers, found a new leading man with the No. 1 overall selection in last year's Draft. The Tigers were cautious with their top prospect after Mize compiled 114 2/3 innings his junior season at Auburn University, but even in a limited capacity, the club still challenged the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder with four abbreviated starts at Class A Advanced Lakeland.

This spring, the 22-year-old caught the eye of Tigers pitching coach Rick Anderson.

"You watch him work, and he gets after it," Anderson told MLB.com. "He's focused and driven. And then to get to see him throw on a mound is an even bigger bonus. I'm sure he's got the butterflies going a little bit with his first camp, and a big league camp. … But he's one of the first ones in and he's working his butt off every day. I like to see that."

Mize's strongest weapon is his 70-grade, diving splitter that is complemented by excellent control. He also has a running fastball that rests in the low-to-mid 90s and a plus slider, which has undergone some data-driven tweaks thanks to his faith in modern technology. 

"We have these slow-motion cameras where I can see the last thing that the ball touches in my hand. I can see so much spin. I can see the way the ball kicks out of my hand, the rotation," said Mize, baseball's No. 17 overall prospect. "Spin axis and efficiency is stuff that I've kind of really bought into, because it's just better pitches. You start looking at all the numbers and it just makes sense. The numbers don't lie. If a guy has a really good curve ball, he's spinning the crap out of it.

Major League ready: Christin Stewart, OF

The time finally came for the Tigers to call upon their No. 8 prospect for his big-league debut following the conclusion of the Minor League season in September, and the 25-year-old provided a glimpse of what he can bring to the table. At six-feet and 205 pounds, Stewart isn't the biggest guy in the clubhouse, but he does possess a lightning-quick bat capable of generating power better than anyone in the system.

The Atlanta native batted .263/.363/.488 and clubbed 25 total homers -- 23 of which came at Triple-A Toledo -- with 21 doubles and 80 RBIs in the Minors. He parked two more round trippers and added 10 RBIs in his 17-game stint in the Majors, batting .267 in 60 at-bats.

"Christin had another power year with the bat," Tigers director of player development Dave Owen told MiLB.com. "He got his first taste of the big leagues in September, which will be a great learning tool for him. He continues to work on staying through the ball and having consistent at-bats."

The 2015 first-rounder out of the University of Tennessee reduced his strikeout totals by 30 to 108 and drew 12 more walks than in his previous season at Double-A Erie. He's certainly a bat-first corner outfielder, but he's impressed the organization with his work to improve defensively.

Video: Steward goes yard for Mud Hens

Breakout prospect: Brock Deatherage, OF

Equipped with 70-grade speed and a name made for heavy metal, the 10th-round selection in 2018 out of North Carolina State debuted with a three-homer game in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and quickly ascended to the Florida State League. The 23-year-old went 5-for-9 in the GCL, batted .313 over 46 games with Class A West Michigan and sported a .333 average in 12 games with the Flying Tigers. Deatherage finished the season with a .326/.385/.504 slash line, 21 extra-base hits -- including seven homers -- and 30 RBIs.

"Brock is a gamer," Owen told MiLB.com. "A 2018 Draft pick and he made it to the FSL. This guy plays with passion. He's very aggressive at the plate and able to play all three [outfield] positions."

Although he earns high marks for speed on a scouting report, the 6-foot-1, 175-pounder wasn't a prolific base stealer in college, swiping 47 bags over four years with the Wolfpack. He was much more aggressive on the basepaths after the Draft, particularly with the Whitecaps, where he amassed 15 of his 19 steals.

The power display jumped out last season and was also a bit uncharacteristic -- even in college, where he clubbed a career-best 14 long balls, four more than his total from three previous seasons. The lefty-swinger showed he can pull the ball out of the park, but he might run into some trouble maintaining that power as he faces tougher pitching.

Back and healthy: Franklin Perez, RHP

While the Tigers do possess several homegrown pitchers with front-end starter potential, it's their No. 3 prospect who's provided much intrigue since he joined the organization in the Justin Verlander deal in 2017. Unfortunately, the uncertainty comes from the 21-year-old's inability to stay on the field. Perez suffered an injury to his right lat during camp last year and did not make his organizational debut until June 25 in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. He made three starts before getting activated in Lakeland, where he lasted just 11 1/3 innings over four appearances before being shut down with shoulder inflammation on July 30.

"It was very frustrating," Perez told MLB.com through a translator, "but it taught me a lot mentally. It made [me] more mentally tough."

The Valencia, Venezuela native finished with a 6.52 ERA and 14 strikeouts over just 19 1/3 innings in 2018. When he's healthy, he boasts an above-average four-pitch mix with strong command of the strike zone. He ascended to Double-A Corpus Christi in the Astros system before getting traded in 2017, finishing that year with a 3.02 overall ERA and 78 strikeouts in 86 1/3 total innings.

Loudest tool: Jake Rogers, C

In a system built around pitching, there may be no more fortunate a group than the young Tigers hurlers in terms of support staff. The 23-year-old backstop was regarded for his defense coming out of Tulane in 2016, and the rave reviews have continued to roll in since he's gotten to the pros. Rogers, who was also acquired in the Verlander deal, threw out 50 of 90 would-be base stealers for Double-A Erie last season.

Video: Catcher Rogers sets Erie caught stealing mark

"Watching Jake catch and receive, he's one of the best catch-and-throw guys I've ever seen," SeaWolves manager Andrew Graham said on MiLB.com's podcast. "Guys who can throw and receive, it's such a great art. Jake's receiving and throwing is special."

What's holding him back is a below-average hit tool that led to a .219/.305/.412 slash line in 2018. He did show some power potential by clubbing 17 homers, which is one fewer than 2017, but he also struck out in more than 24 percent of his plate appearances. He's batting .143 with a double and an RBI through 14 at-bats in big-league Spring Training, but his defensive skills have earned him some patience from the club's development staff.

More to keep an eye on: If not for Mize, Matt Manning would be the leader of the pitching wave in Detroit, and, unlike Mize, the club took a very deliberate approach to the 6-foot-6, 190-pounder's development. The No. 52 overall prospect reached Double-A last year after being held to short season ball in the previous two seasons, posting a 3.29 ERA with 154 strikeouts in 117 2/3 total innings across three levels. ... Beau Burrows (No. 6), Alex Faedo (No. 10) and Kyle Funkhouser (No. 11) are more capable arms that are all likely to spend some if not most of their season in Triple-A. ... Outfielder Daz Cameron (No. 5), the final piece in the Verlander trade, also has a shot to crack the big-league roster at some point this year, as does shortstop Willi Castro (No. 7). Daniel Woodrow (No. 22), a 24-year-old outfielder, batted .317 with 20 extra-base hits and 23 steals last year in Erie. ... And the full-season debut of Parker Meadows (No. 9) should garner some attention moving forward. 2018 ninth-rounder Tarik Skubal (No. 20) held an 0.40 ERA over 22 1/3 innings at three different levels.

2019 Organization Predictions

Most home runs in the system: Stewart or Josh Lester
Most stolen bases: Derek Hill
Most strikeouts: Manning
Current prospect to get most Major League playing time: Dawel Lugo
Non-Top-100-prospect to end 2019 in the Top 100: Cameron

Gerard Gilberto is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @GerardGilberto4. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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