When the Detroit Tigers selected Casey Mize, a deceiving and dominant right-hander out of Auburn University, with the number-one overall pick in the 2018 Major League Baseball Draft, they solidified two things: the presence of a superstar pitcher around which to build for the future of the club and the blinding hope that with one guy in the system, the fortunes of the organization would soon change.
Mize, of course, has been incredible since joining the pro ranks. The 22-year-old threw a no-hitter in his first Double-A start and has continued to pitch marvelously for the Erie SeaWolves, having gone 4-0 with a 1.40 ERA and 35 strikeouts in six starts. This comes after Mize absolutely carved up the SEC in his senior campaign, going 10-5 with a 2.95 ERA, striking out 151 batters, and walking just 12 over 109.2 innings pitched.
Mize ranked sixth in MLB Pipeline’s preseason rankings of all prospects in the majors. Four of the five ahead of him (Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., Eloy Jimenez, Nick Senzel) will reach graduated status soon and make Mize the second-ranked prospect in all of professional baseball. The Tigers organization and the fans in Motor City have reacted accordingly; Mize, the one-one just a year ago, is now the sole savior of an entire franchise.
That is what blinding hope does for you. It can turn your entire perception of the sport around, and the anticipation of your team’s top prospects can be what drives a fan base to come out to the ballpark every night. Right now, the Tigers need that more than any team in the game. Well, almost any team.
When the 2019 MLB Draft kicks off on June 3, the Baltimore Orioles will be on the clock for the first overall selection, awarded to them by virtue of their miserable 47-115 record in 2018. This is a franchise whose organizational face, Manny Machado, was traded away last season and whose future looks as bleak as ever. The fans in Baltimore have followed suit with the team’s disastrous performance, with an average of just 16,053 fans showing up at Oriole Park at Camden Yards for O’s home games this season, an average attendance figure that ranks 28th in the 30-team major leagues.
When Rob Manfred, the Commissioner of Baseball, walks up to the podium to announce the first pick of the MLB Draft, Orioles fans, hardcore and casual, will have their ears ready. The consensus top draft-eligible prospect is Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman, a switch-hitter who hits for average, works the count, can rake for power, and is regarded as a top-notch defensive backstop. Only one catcher has been drafted first overall since 1975, the 2002 one-one Joe Mauer, who went on to win the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 2009.
The pick won’t immediately alter the course of the Orioles franchise, nor will any other selection by any team in the 40-round draft that concludes on June 5. But it gives the Orioles organization and fans the glimmer of hope, albeit a premature and blind hope, that they need to see the light at the end of the tunnel, the same tunnel the Tigers, with Mize, have begun traversing.
This isn’t a new concept in baseball. In the era of rebuilding and creating superteams by losing and hoarding cost-controlled, this has become somewhat of a theme in MLB. Personally, I remember the hype around 2012 number one overall pick Carlos Correa, and how the Houston Astros heralded him as a future Hall of Famer. Three years later, Correa won the AL Rookie of the Year Award, and two seasons after that, he put up a 6.1 Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement to help the Astros capture their first World Series championship in franchise history.
Two years prior it was Bryce Harper, who would electrify baseball with his infectious charisma and all-world hitting talent, but more importantly, provided unmatched hope for a bright future in the nation’s capital (and for the most part, carried the Washington Nationals to the postseason multiple times).
Ask any Detroit fan about the future of the club and their answer will be one of excitement and anticipation. The 2019 Tigers are 21-32 and have little to enjoy in their current state, save for what’s left of Miguel Cabrera; there is nothing but a small, blind but hopeful reason to be elated about the team’s future. Casey Mize is the single-handed driving force of that excitement, a right-hander compared directly to Tigers legend Justin Verlander, thrilling the fans of the current and of the time to come.
The Orioles will get the same feeling after the MLB Draft in four days. The impetuous and forceful hope of a franchise liberator to drive fans to the ballpark in support of their team and to provide vision and direction to an otherwise sightless organization. That was Harper and Correa in years before. That is Casey Mize now, and that will be the number-one overall pick in the draft on June 3.