Mar. 13, 2012; Peoria, AZ, USA; Chicago White Sox center fielder Jared Mitchell (82) is tagged out at second base during the ninth inning by the San Diego Padres at Peoria Stadium. Padres won 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE
The last couple prospects I've reviewed have come from loaded teams/systems, so let me take a step away from that and look at a guy in a barren one. Or should I say a Baron one? Jared Mitchell is an interesting case, starting from his dual sport days at LSU, where he won championships in both football and baseball, extending to his profile as a "raw" player despite having an advanced idea of the strike zone and covering his season-ending and potentially career-threatening ankle injury.
Jared Mitchell - CF - White Sox - Taken 23rd overall by the Chicago White Sox in the 2009 draft, Mitchell presented an intriguing package. While he was a college player, you could dream on him like a prep kid due to his splitting time between football and baseball. You could see his current production and think "if he focuses solely on baseball, he could really take off!" After posting an impressive .296/.417/.435 slash line in Lo-A, his first crack at pro ball, Mitchell appeared to be on his way. He showed tremendous plate discipline, recording a 16.5% walk rate, but also striking out in an astonishing 28.8% of his at-bats. This showed the dual nature of Mitchell's game, and demonstrated why some were so high on him. Yes, he was raw as evidenced by the strikeouts, but he also showed an advanced knowledge of the strike zone for someone who had spent so little time playing baseball. This prompted excitement for the 2010 season, where Mitchell was making quite an impression in Spring Training, even making front office members consider skipping him over Hi-A and starting the season in Double-A.
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Part of that would be to make sure he wasn't just beating up on younger competition, but it was also due to his impressive display in Spring Training and the previous season. Unfortunately, Mitchell tore a tendon in his ankle later on in Spring Training and would miss the entire 2010 minor league season, making his only appearance in the Arizona Fall League where he played miserably (.163/.239/.200 slash, with 30.7% K rate). It also cast serious doubt on the one part of Mitchell's game that was a true plus: his speed. Despite their aggressive stance a season prior, considering moving Mitchell to Double-A, the White Sox started him off at Hi-A for the 2011 season, where he continued to struggle badly, putting up a .222/.304/.377 slash line and striking out an stunning 33.8% of the time. His approach hadn't entirely abandoned him though as he still walked at a 9.6% clip. At this point, it was hard to believe in Mitchell as anything more than a once-promising young player who suffered an injury that threatened his ability to become a major leaguer. Cut to one month into the 2012 season, and Mitchell has returned to form. Thus far, he's put together a .287/.408/.491 slash line at Double-A Birmingham, while returning his walk rate to 16% and trimming his strikeout rate to a still concerning 25.2%. His K% continues to be alarmingly high, but everything else appears to be coming together for him. While he's only connected for one home run so far, 14 of his 31 hits have gone for extra bases, including six (SIX!) triples. That last figure is significant, as he only have eight triples in all 2011, and his speed might be returning. Mitchell has also pilfered six bases while only getting caught once, a significant improvement over last year's 14 SB: 20 CS ratio. There are still signs for concern beyond the K% however, as his BABIP is creeping towards Bryan LaHair territory, and currently stands at .405. While that will certainly regress to the mean, 2012, thus far, has been a revelation for Mitchell and I am excited to see how much his improvements offset some of the regression that is sure to come his way.
I know I just hit you with a lot of words on Mitchell's history and stats, but if you're still reading this, I think you can handle a few more on his tools and why I think he can still become a major leaguer and a valuable fantasy player. Coming out of college Mitchell intrigued scouts with his plus-plus speed, average power and knowledge of the strike zone and all but sent them running for the hills with his contact issues. Not much has changed in that regard, though he did have a lost season to contend with. At 23, Mitchell is on the older side for Double-A, though it might be unfair to put him on a normal development track given his dual-sport history. While his plus-plus speed aided him on the basepaths and covering ground in center field, Mitchell was a work-in-progress in both areas pre-injury, and continues to be now. His speed is not all the way back, and there is doubt as to whether it will be, but he has adjusted by honing his instincts and making the adjustments that come with regular playing time, as evidenced by his six stolen bases to one caught stealing so far in 2012. Opinions are very mixed on Mitchell as he works his way back onto the prospect radar with some saying he's likely to be an adequate big league centerfielder with fringe-average power, and others saying that he's likely to shift to a corner spot, but show enough power to justify it while still remaining an above-average runner. The White Sox are encouraged by the improvements he's made so far in 2012, making hard contact and showing better routes in the outfield. His arm is below-average, but enough for center or left field and I think there's still room for him to grow as a hitter, with 2011 being the first time in his career he played more than 50 games in a season. Already showing solid power and a semblance of the speed he used to have, he could develop slightly-above average pop and should be an above-average runner from here on out.
Mitchell is likely to be a few seasons away from the majors no matter how well he does in 2012, as there are still many raw elements to his game. But that doesn't have to be a bad thing. If he can continue to produce like he has in 2012 - or close to it - then for all the talk about how raw he is, it means he has room to grow. I envision Mitchell as an all around center fielder (below-average arm though) who can provide a good OBP, 15 or so home runs, all while stealing 20+ bags a year. That's an ambitious vision for Mitchell, certainly, and his floor is well below that as his contact rates are beyond troubling at the moment. But given his raw nature, I think Mitchell can continue to make the adjustments that have led to his strong start to 2012 and turn himself into a valuable contributor. He's not a big time prospect or a future fantasy star, but someone who shouldn't hurt you in any one area (unless you're in a strikeout league for offense) and can be a plus in several.