Casey Mize was praised before he even arrived.
Three strong years at Auburn. Rising up draft boards. Selected No. 1 overall in the 2018 draft. Dashing through the minor-league system. A no-hitter in his Double-A debut. Striking out Miguel Cabrera on three pitches in summer camp.
The Detroit Tigers needed the 23-year-old to become a franchise cornerstone.
And they still do.
The rebuild is forging onward, and there's a lot riding on Mize's success. With his first MLB season in the books, barring an unscheduled doubleheader getting put back on the calendar for Monday, Mize knows his play didn't match the hype surrounding him.
Frankly, he wasn't very good at times.
"I'm not lost," Mize said Wednesday after allowing six runs in 4⅔ innings to the Minnesota Twins for an end-of-season 6.99 ERA. "I feel like I have the stuff to be here. It's just execution, command, sequencing. All that stuff. It's really tough to execute when you can't command and really tough to sequence when you can't execute."
Mize is right. His pitch repertoire is good enough to be in the majors. His fastball bumps 96 mph. His cutter is a sneaky tool. And when his two-seamer is down in the strike zone, it makes his wicked splitter even more effective.
Those scenarios were noticed numerous times, but his lack of consistency and command hurt him. He's a big-league thrower, but not yet a big-league pitcher. There's a difference: many can throw the ball, yet only a few can flawlessly execute a game plan.
If it weren't for the shortened coronavirus season, Mize would've had a handful of starts in Double-A or Triple-A — possibly a combination of both — to focus on that concept before his Aug. 19 debut. Instead, he got summer camp in July and the alternate training site in August. This setup was not in Mize's favor, pitching against many of the players from a team coming off a 114-loss season.
Across seven starts, Mize ended with an 0-3 record, 26 strikeouts, 13 walks and 22 earned runs in 28⅓ innings.
The expectation never matched the results, in other words. Which, if we're being honest, shouldn't be surprising. Mize has been hailed as a beacon of hope for a struggling franchise since he was taken at the top of the draft, which means the hype surrounding was always going to be impossible to temper.
There were moments when Mize was quite impressive — such as when he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against the talented Chicago White Sox and his MLB debut — also against the Sox — when he struck out nine and walked none.
But he also was exposed against four teams that as of now are expected to make the MLB postseason — of his seven starts, three came against the Twins, two came against the White Sox and he also faced the Indians and Cubs once.
"Listen, this game is a tough game," McClendon said Wednesday. "It's a really tough game at this level. Unfortunately, you're gonna have to fail in order to succeed at this level. He has struggled, but he's going to learn from this, get better because of it."
Once the season concludes, he is going back to Nashville, where he lives. He will take what he learned from the 2020 season into Bledsoe Agency's training facility, correct his mistakes, refine his pitches and prepare for spring training.
"We have a ton of resources there," Mize said. "We use all the technology, and we've got a good group of guys there that create a competitive environment. We feed off each other. I'm looking forward to getting a lot better this offseason."
The buzz surrounding Mize isn't going to stop. Until his time with the Tigers is complete, he is going to be in the limelight of the team's successes and failures — he is at the forefront of the rebuild. Soon, Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson will join him in carrying that load.
If all goes as planned, he will begin to turn the corner next season.
"During all this struggle, I think I'm gonna come out ... just the most motivated I've been," Mize said. "It's gonna be a tough offseason, but I'm going to be really motivated to get a lot better. Everything happens for a reason. I think these struggles are going to make me a lot better. It's going to drive me to be great.
"Every day, when I'm working out, playing catch or doing whatever it is, this time is going to be in the back of my mind. I think I'm going to be much better for it."
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here's how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers' Casey Mize 'motivated' as bright future remains intact