Tigers right-hander Casey Mize will be undergoing Tommy John surgery. Manager A.J. Hinch gave the news to reporters, including Chris McCosky of the Detroit News, who relays that Mize’s ulnar collateral ligament is not torn, but is stretched to such a degree that it no longer has elasticity.
The news obviously comes as a disappointment for both Mize and the team. The first overall selection of the 2018 draft, Mize has long been seen as one of the best prospects in baseball and a key component of the Tigers’ future success. Last year was his first full season in the majors, with Mize throwing 150 1/3 innings with a 3.71 ERA, 19.3% strikeout rate, 6.7% walk rate and 48.1% ground ball rate.
Based on the work of Mize and fellow young starters Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal, the club felt it was time to get aggressive and spend some money on talented veterans to supplement their young core. They gave multi-year deals to Javier Baez, Eduardo Rodriguez and Andrew Chafin this offseason, hoping to making the transition from rebuilding to competing.
Unfortunately, just about everything has gone wrong in Detroit this year, with multiple players missing significant time due to injury. The starting rotation has been hit particularly hard, with Mize, Manning and Rodriguez all being held back to various maladies, as well as Tyler Alexander and Michael Pineda.
In the case of Mize, it was hoped that he could take a step forward in his development this year, his age-25 season. Instead, he was only able to make a pair of starts before landing on the injured list back in April. In the days after that IL placement, Mize began a throwing program, with the Tigers seemingly breathing a sigh of relief that a major absence had been avoided. However, over the subsequent months, repeated attempts to begin throwing ultimately led to further discomfort and shutdowns.
Instead of the breakout year many had hoped for, 2022 will go down as a lost season for Mize. 2023 will be a question mark as well, given the usual 12-18 months of recovery that are generally required to recovery from Tommy John surgery. Since Mize enters into salary arbitration in the 2023-24 offseason, his future earnings will certainly be impacted by his lack of a platform over the next two years, though Mize did already get some early-career financial comfort in the form of his $7.5MM draft signing bonus.
In the short term, this will hurt the chances of the Tigers recovering from their miserable start to the season. They went 10-23 over their first 33 games but have gone a much more respectable 13-10 since then. The resulting 23-33 record is still not great, but they’re only six games out of a postseason spot in this year’s expanded playoffs. With so many starters on the shelf, the club has been relying on unproven youngsters such as Alex Faedo, Elvin Rodriguez and Beau Brieske, which will have to continue for the time being.
In the long run, Mize will be following Spencer Turnbull down the Tommy John path, as he also underwent the procedure last year. By the time Mize returns in late 2023 or early 2024, it’s possible that the Tigers can finally have the elite rotation they dreamed of with Mize, Turnbull, Manning, Skubal and Eduardo Rodriguez all healthy, with Faedo, Brieske, Elvin Rodriguez, Joey Wentz and other hurlers working their way into the mix as well, though all of that will have to wait.