Life after Vlad: Former No. 1 pick tosses no-hitter to enter top prospect conversation

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Jack Baer
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TAMPA, FL - JUL 31: 2018 1st overall pick in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, Casey Mize of the Flying Tigers delivers a pitch to the plate during the Florida State League game between the Lakeland Flying Tigers and the Dunedin Blue Jays on July 31, 2018, at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, FL. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Casey Mize is allowing an average of 1.4 hits per start this season. (Getty Images)

With Vladimir Guerrero Jr. finally in the majors where he belongs, it will soon be time to crown a new No. 1 prospect.

There are no shortage of possibilities for that title, though plenty of players who were top prospects entering this season have already joined Guerrero in the majors. That includes Baseball America’s No. 2 and 3 prospects in San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chicago White Sox outfielder Eloy Jimenez. Four more members of the top 10 are also expected to debut this year.

So where does that leave us in the top prospect race? Well, we could start with one former top pick who has dominated the competition to a comical degree so far this season. And it got even better on Monday.

Tigers top prospect Casey Mize throws no-hitter in Double-A debut

Pitching at the Double-A level — usually the biggest jump in competition level a prospect sees before reaching the big leagues — for the first time in his career, last year’s No. 1 draft pick Casey Mize pitched a no-hitter for the Erie SeaWolves.

Terrifyingly enough, the Detroit Tigers prospect said after the game that he wasn’t even pitching up to his own standards.

“The fastball command was not good, the worst it’s been all year,“ Mize said. “I’ll say that with complete confidence. You can look at the video, it wasn’t good. So I threw a ton of cutters and just relied on that.”

The 97-pitch performance was the latest start in a monstrous beginning of the season for Mize. Between Monday and four starts for High-A Lakeland, Mize currently holds a 0.26 ERA (one earned run in 35 innings), 0.26 WHIP and a 32/2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The number of hits he’s allowed in each of his starts: 1, 4, 1, 1, 0. You could chalk up the first four starts to Mize simply not belonging at High-A, but Double-A is another story.

Picked first overall out of Auburn in the 2018 MLB draft by the Tigers, Mize ranked 15th on Baseball America’s prospect list entering this season, but ESPN’s Keith Law said after the start that the 21-year-old is big-league ready.

MLB Pipeline was even more laudatory when analyzing the post-Guerrero prospect landscape and comparing Mize to fellow pitching prospects Mackenzie Gore and Forrest Whitley:

While Whitley may get a slight edge for the best overall repertoire and Gore is a southpaw with a chance for four plus pitches, Mize has the best combination of stuff and polish since Stephen Strasburg.

Strasburg went No. 1 overall in 2009 and Mize did the same last June. His upper-80s splitter is one of the nastiest pitches in the Minors and he has uncanny command of it, and he also fills the strike zone with mid-90s mph two- and four-seam fastballs, upper-80s cutters and mid-80s slurves.

Strasburg, who was arguably the most-hyped pitching prospect in baseball history, is a comp the Tigers will definitely take.

Who else could be the new top prospect in baseball?

To start off, let’s just note that No. 1 prospects like Guerrero, who was almost unanimously the top prospect entering this season, are not very common. Without the Toronto Blue Jays wunderkind, there could be plenty of valid options for the crown.

The favorite might be Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco, who was named No. 4 on BA’s list at the age of 17. Now 18, Franco is currently slashing .311/.393/.568 for Class A Bowling Green. No. 6 Jo Adell (Los Angeles Angels) and No. 8 Royce Lewis (Minnesota Twins) could also be possibilities.

In truth, it would be pretty hard for Mize to crack the top three. For starters, he could get promoted by the end of this season. And, as The Ringer broke down before the season, a sad history of injuries, changes in pitcher usage and overall variability have caused pitching prospects to be valued lower in today’s game. The title of “top pitching prospect” might be as well as Mize will do before he hits the majors.

That still doesn’t take away from the fact that the 12-14 Tigers, projected to finish last in the AL Central, could soon give fans a very good reason to tune in every fifth game.

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