The Auburn Athletics Department has a great video production team. Their stuff goes viral and wins all kinds of awards. But what makes the video they shot on June 4, 2018 so great isn’t the production value, per se, it’s how long it takes Casey Mize to look up after the Commissioner of Baseball calls his name.
“With the first selection of the 2018 MLB draft, the Detroit Tigers select Casey Mize, a right-handed pitcher from Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama.”
The crowd in the Auburn Athletics Auditorium goes wild, which is what crowds do for Casey Mize. His parents clap and his teammates punch the air with one hand and train their cell phones on him with the other. And the first No. 1 draft pick in the history of Auburn’s baseball program closes his eyes and bows his head. And keeps it there. It doesn’t look like he’s trying to draw (even more) attention to himself. What you see looks like genuine surprise. But could it be?
Mize had topped ESPN mock drafts and even landed the cover of Baseball America magazine’s June issue. The hype had been for building months. But something about the way he looks in the video, about how long he hugs his dad after he finally stands up, about the tear-jerking “thank yous” he hands out, gives the impression he truly didn’t believe he was a few weeks away from the second-largest signing bonus ($7.5 million) in MLB history. This should have been a Cam Newton at the Heisman Trophy announcement moment, a done deal, fait accompli, a formality. And if you ask anyone other than Casey, it was.
“What makes him so special is not just that he’s good, but he’s polished,” says former Auburn and MLB outfielder Gabe Gross, who returned to The Plains as Auburn Baseball’s hitting coach in 2017, just in time to see Mize strikeout 151 batters and walk just 12.
“You just don’t see the type of command he has with the number of pitches he has with college pitchers,” Gross says. “His strikeout to walk ratio? Just 12 walks over the last two years? You just don’t see that.”
Gross is a former first-rounder himself, one of now just five in Auburn history. He’s fine with calling Mize one of the best—if not the best—baseball players to come out of Auburn.
His only advice at the beginning of the year? “I told him don’t worry about the scouts behind the plate with the radar guns—play for your teammates.”
Message received. “Team effort” practically became a mantra for Mize throughout the season, which Auburn finished with its highest ranking in 20 years.
Talk about that 96 mile-per-hour fastball, Casey.
“I try to throw strikes and get outs, and not try to impress anybody other than my teammates.”
Talk about that crazy splitter you throw, Casey.
“I’m just focused on the season and helping my team get to Omaha.”
How do you feel about all the draft talk, Casey?
“I kind of redirect that praise and put it on my team because those guys really deserve it.”
On June 4, those guys were the people cheering the loudest for Casey Mize as his dream came true. Actually, don’t call it a dream, he says. It was more than that. “It was always a dream of mine to play professional baseball,” Mize says, “but being the first pick, or even going high in the first round was never a dream of mine. It really was surreal. I didn’t believe it could happen until it happened.”
“So that reaction I saw in that ‘Casey Mize, Auburn Man’ video that’s going around was honest?” I ask. “That was real?”
“Yeah,” Mize says after a Friday throwing strikes for his future teammates at Detroit’s Spring Training facility in Lakeland, Florida, “that was real.”
By Jeremy Henderson ’04