So far, spring training is working out just as Chicago White Sox outfield prospect Jared Mitchell had hoped.
The all-around athlete with the shockingly solid physique – he has washboard abs on his washboard abs – knew that making the major league roster was an extreme long shot, but he just hoped to get attention for his play on the field. Mission accomplished.
In the seven Cactus League games Mitchell has played, he has collected five hits in 13 at-bats for a .385 batting average. More importantly, his 1.275 OPS has shown impressive run-producing capabilities.
Granted, the sample size is small, but it’s not like he gets huge chunks of time to play in front of the major league coaching staff so every little bit helps.
Outside of an injury to somebody on the big league squad, though, Mitchell is still targeted for Triple-A Charlotte when the season begins.
“Whenever the organization feels I’m needed, I’m ready to go,” Mitchell said. “However I can help that team or any team, I want to win. That’s all that matters to me. At the end of the day, we all want to win. That’s what it’s all about.”
The former LSU wide receiver appears to have his baseball legs under him now. The White Sox knew when they drafted him with the 23rd overall selection in 2009 that his maturation as a baseball player would take some time.
His timetable was set back even further when he tore a tendon in his ankle during spring training in 2010 and missed the entire season.
After a modest rebound in 2011 at Single-A Winston-Salem, Mitchell showed last year at Double-A Birmingham that he was feeling good again. He stole 20 bases, put up a .440 slugging percentage and hit 10 home runs in 94 games as opposed to the nine he hit in 129 games at Single-A.
He ended the season with a promotion to Triple-A Charlotte, where he drove in 13 runs in 36 games.
“The thing on Jared from the time we drafted him, when he was part-time baseball player, part-time football player, was about repetition and at-bats,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “That was compounded by the fact the injury cost him a year so our plan from the start has always been get him out there playing in games. We needed to continue to do that as he comes back from injury. That hasn’t changed significantly at this point.
“I do not see, and stranger things have happened, but I don’t see us taking him come the end of spring. Instead he’ll be playing on an everyday basis at Charlotte pushing us to hopefully to bring him up based on his performance as the season goes on.”
At Charlotte, Mitchell will be in line to become the first in the wave of talented minor league outfielders to arrive on the South Side. Others include Trayce Thompson and Keenyn Walker, who are also in big league camp. A little further back there is Courtney Hawkins, the club’s first-round pick in 2012 that is already considered by Baseball America as the top prospect in the organization.
As the White Sox put together potential trade proposals this winter, everybody who was witness to Mitchell’s recent play insisted that he remain in the organization. The big goal with Mitchell now appears to be teaching him the ability to make adjustments.
The left-handed hitter has shown a knack for delivering in a new situation, but hasn’t shown the ability to deliver sustained success.
At Double-A last year, Mitchell batted .341 in April, but just .214 for the rest of his stay there. Then at Triple-A, he had 10 hits in his first 33 at-bats (.303) over his first nine games before cooling off. When the International League playoffs arrived, he ramped it up again to go 9-for-27 (.333) in seven postseason games.
This spring it appears to be more of the same with his hot start.
“It’s a work in progress every day.” Mitchell said. “It’s what I’m here for every day. I do whatever I can to help whatever team I’m on to win. It’s really what I focus on every day.”
Winning seems to be the most reoccurring theme for Mitchell, and why not? At LSU, he and teammate Chad Jones became the first two student-athletes to win a BCS national title (2007) and a College World Series title (2009). Mitchell was named most outstanding player of that 2009 College World Series.
But despite the success in college, he hasn’t taken for granted what it takes to win on the next level.
“I can’t say planned for it,” Mitchell said when asked if the process to becoming a major leaguer has taken longer than he expected. “Pro ball is something new to me, like it is to everyone that comes in here. There was no sort of timetable or plan however it goes. I just work every day to try to get better every day. Whatever happens, happens.”
The 24-year old could end up in Chicago by the end of the season, but first there is some work to do.
“Of course, that’s what every person that comes into minor league ball, their goal is to get to the top,’” he said. “It’s a goal definitely. There’s a process to it, I understand that.”