This should have been the week.
If everything was right and good in the world, Casey Mize, the Detroit Tigers’ top pitching prospect, would have made his debut Thursday afternoon against the St. Louis Cardinals. It promised to be a magical day, a glimpse into the future and an emotional lift for a team with a surprising shot at making the expanded playoffs.
But the coronavirus pandemic got in the way. The doubleheader against the Cardinals on Thursday was postponed because of a COVID-19 outbreak, after at least nine St. Louis players and seven staff members tested positive for the virus.
So no doubleheader.
And we are all forced to wait.
It feels like Christmas morning has been put on hold, and a bunch of presents are stuck in Toledo.
Which totally stinks.
Why not now?
But this can still be the week.
I don’t understand why the Tigers are still waiting to bring up Mize.
The Tigers are in the thick of a playoff race. Is it real? It’s hard to say. But I know they’d have a better chance to make the postseason if they put their best players on the field — Mize is the No. 8 prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline.
At this point, there is only one argument to wait: so they can preserve one more year before he is eligible for arbitration.
But there is a flip side to that argument: By not bringing him up, they run the risk of slowing his development.
There is no guarantee Mize will come up and be lights out instantly.
Look at Max Scherzer. He was a first-round draft pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2006. When he was 23, he pitched in 16 games for Arizona and had an 0-4 record.
When he was 24, he went 9-11 and was traded to the Tigers in a three-team deal. In 2010, he was struggling with the Tigers. He had a 1-4 record and 7.29 ERA. So the Tigers sent him to Toledo to get right.
Oh, he got right. By the time he was 28, Scherzer won the Cy Young Award.
The Tigers could make the argument: See, it takes a while. Why not reserve a year on the back end?
But I would like to flip that argument: Why waste this opportunity? Why not get Mize going through the growing pains now? Why not kick-start his development instead of slowing it down? Why not give him a chance to figure it out with nobody in the stands and when the team has such low expectations?
The ripe age
Mize is 23, which already is older than many pitchers when they made their debut, across a wide spectrum of eras, including Jack Morris, 22; Justin Verlander, 22; Clayton Kershaw, 20; Stephen Strasburg, 21; and Gerrit Cole, 22.
Two years after Cole made his debut, he was fourth in Cy Young Award voting.
Cleveland’s Shane Bieber made his debut in 2019 when he was 23 — hmm, the same age as Mize! — and went 11-5. Last year, he was fourth in Cy Young Award voting.
And Bieber is expected to start Saturday for the Indians.
Meanwhile, Mize is pitching at Camp Toledo. And even though he is getting reps, it is not the same as pitching in a major league game.
By all accounts, Mize is healthy and looks impressive.
“There is a bunch of people I’ve been impressed with,” Tigers prospect Riley Greene told me recently. “Casey Mize to start. He’s really good. I’ve faced him a couple times. He hits his spots whenever he wants to. He throws all of his pitches for strikes. I mean, it’s a tough (at-bat), that’s for sure. But yeah, I mean, he’s a very impressive on the mound.”
Break ’em in
The Tigers are 9-7 and have a shot at making the playoffs. I realize this is a strange season, but why not go for it? Why not put your best team on the field?
And I wouldn’t just bring up Mize. I’d bring up Matt Manning — at the very least, to work out of the bullpen.
“He’s doing well, just continues to progress,” Dave Littlefield, the Tigers vice president of player development, said. “You know, we’ve got high hopes there. Obviously, he’s pitched very well, for quite a while and just continues to get more reps is really what’s gonna help him, you know, refine some things, right.”
And I’d bring up Tarik Skubal, even if it means he’s also working out of the bullpen. I know Skubal was slowed because of COVID-19, but as soon as he can pitch a couple of innings, bring him up to work out of the ‘pen.
“He’s got off to a little slower start, just because he wasn’t able to get out there as early,” Littlefield said. “It’s just a lot to like, a great kid. He’s competitive. He’s smart, he’s advanced thinking. He’s a left-hander with a good body and delivery and stuff and throws strikes. He’s got a lot of ingredients.”
Let these young kids experience a push for the playoffs.
Let them feel it.
Success may take time
The Tigers owning a winning record is more impressive considering Matthew Boyd has not been good.
I advocated for Tyler Alexander to get a shot at starting, but not at the cost of bringing up Mize.
Now, I’d rather see Alexander working out of the pen, where he looked so impressive. And Mize in the rotation.
I want as many young kids in Detroit as possible. Because there are no guarantees you can bring them all up in the future, flip a switch and have them play great. All at the same time. It takes a while.
Willi Castro hit .230 in 30 games last year. But he was called up this week when C.J. Cron was injured. Castro responded with a huge game, going 3-for-4 with a two-run home run.
Jeimer Candelario struggled early this season. But over the past seven days, he has hit .346.
It takes time for these players to find a rhythm in the big leagues.
Who knows how Mize will look. But that’s fine. Sometimes, you need to struggle before you can find success.
So start the process now, especially at this fascinating time, when the Tigers have a shot at the playoffs.
Contact Jeff Seidel: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.