CARY, N.C.—Casey Mize wasn't a top prospect coming out of Springville (Ala.) High.
He didn't crack Baseball America's Top 500 draft prospects and the Auburn commit went undrafted in the 2015 MLB draft.
That wasn't really a surprise to Mize, who described himself as "projectable" coming out of high school. He was a 6-foot-3, 175-pound righthander who had a fastball that touched 92 mph, but he wasn't really a pitcher.
"I guess I just kind of went out there throwing," said Mize, who is pitching for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team this summer. "I didn't know the mental game of pitching."
But before Mize arrived on campus at Auburn, he had a plan: bulk up his wiry frame and learn as much about pitching as possible.
Mize added some weight before his freshman season and saw an uptick in velocity. He put together a solid freshman campaign, posting a 3.52 ERA and striking out 59 batters in 69 innings. Still, there was work to do.
Last summer, Mize headed up to the Cape Cod League to play for Wareham. He worked on things such as pitching out of the stretch and tightening up his slider with Gatemen pitching coach Jim Lawler.
"He was such a good athlete, and he was just so driven," said Lawler, who Mize still frequently calls and texts for advice. "He wanted to be good."
"The good athletes make things simple," he said. "You give them a little simple tip, and they do it."
Mize went 1-0, 3.00 on the Cape, working mostly out of the bullpen as he tried to tweak his mechanics out of the stretch. He struck out 11 batters and walked five in 12 innings.
When he came back to Auburn in the fall, the rest of the Tigers were impressed.
"All my teammates were like, 'Man! What'd you do?'" Mize said.
Mize, who has put on about 35 pounds since his freshman year, carried the momentum into the spring where he had a breakout season at Auburn. He went 8-2, 2.04 for the Tigers. He held opposing hitters to a .210 average in 83.2 innings.
The Tigers’ righthander also led the NCAA in strikeout-to-walk ratio. He struck out 109 batters compared to just nine walks. He said pitching success branches from fastball command, so that is where he put most of his attention.
"I think it all starts in preparation," Mize said. "The summer before in Cape Cod, I was learning from a lot of great coaches and great teammates. I really just tried to focus on fastball command and filling up the zone and really tried to let my offspeed stuff play off that. Just attack with my fastball and let my splitter and slider play behind it."
Georgia Tech catcher Joe Bart played with Mize for Wareham last summer. Both were with the Collegiate National Team for the early training period. When Bart caught Mize again during one of the team’s first games, he could tell there was a difference.
"He might throw a little harder, and he definitely has a lot more confidence after his pretty ridiculous year at Auburn this spring," Bart said. "He knows he's a dude, and dudes get out there and they feel themselves."
Mize has continued to sit down batters with the Collegiate National Team. He hasn't allowed a run in seven innings and has given up five hits while striking out eight batters and not walking any.
His fastball velocity is averaging between 94-95 mph and has topped out at 96.1 mph, according to TrackMan. He pairs that with a slider and splitter, which Bart said can really put people away.
"We'd seen him on video, we heard about him, we knew he was really good," CNT manager John Savage (UCLA) said. "The description met the eye."
A few dozen scouts have camped behind home plate for the Collegiate National Team’s games at the USA Baseball National Training Complex. Each time Mize throws is another opportunity to impress.
If he didn't before with his college season, Mize definitely has put himself on the radar of MLB teams this summer. However, he does not yet have his eyes on next year's draft. He is continuing to stick to the thing which got him to this point—learning.
"I'm not really looking that far ahead," Mize said. "I'm just trying to help the United States of America win ball games. And I'm trying to learn from these guys because they're all uber talented and really smart."