In the southern towns of Birmingham, Montgomery, and Chattanooga, a young White Sox prospect is suddenly raising eyebrows and expectations.
Hes batting .310 with an on-base percentage of .434. He leads the Southern League with 22 runs and 6 triples. Hes 6 for 7 in stolen bases. His strikeouts are way down. His walks are way up.
And now, so is the ceiling for Jared Mitchell, the left-handed outfielder who once was lost, but now is found.
Because of the health issues, we have never really seen the real Mitch, said Buddy Bell, White Sox VP of Player Development. I believe we are just now getting a glimpse of seeing the player we drafted a couple years ago.
As the White Sox first round pick in 2009, Mitchell was in the same draft class as young phenoms Stephen Strasburg, Dustin Ackley, Drew Storen, Mike Trout and Brett Jackson. A college star at LSU, he seemed to be on the fast track to join the White Sox, until that fateful day the following spring.
March 12, 2010.
Brought into a split-squad game in Tempe as a defensive replacement in the sixth inning, Mitchell went after a deep fly ball off the bat of the Angels Juan Rivera. Jared made a sensational catch against the wall, but when he came down, something was wrong. He couldnt feel anything in his left leg.
Mitchell tore a tendon in his ankle.
He would need surgery, months of rehab, plus something most 21-year-olds never think about.
You learn a lot about patience through an injury like that, Mitchell said by phone on Monday. Its a lot of mental perseverance, and things you have to go through, and things you learn about yourself through a situation like that.
The Most Outstanding Player of the 2009 College World Series was forced to miss all of the 2010 season. Then last year while at Winston-Salem, he struggled mightily at the plate, batting .222 with 183 strikeouts in 129 games.
Going into last year, in my mind, I thought I was pretty healthy and pretty back to regular.
He wasnt. Mitchell says he was at about 85 percent. Thats physically. Throw the mental part into it, and that number was probably lower.
I wasnt all the way back, didnt have all the spring back, Mitchell said. I think that helps a lot, to be able to know that youre healthy and not have to worry about anything else.
Ask Jake Peavy.
As a former number-one pick, did Mitchell put too much pressure on himself?
I think subconsciously I probably was, yeah, Mitchell said. For me, I guess I wanted everything to come back so quick. It wasnt so much trying to show this person this or that person that. I wanted to be back in top shape so much, so quick. And it just doesnt happen that way. This game is not that easy. You realize that once you go through it. I think being able to just come into this year and being able to let things happen and not put so much pressure on every at-bat, and not worry about everything.
So far, when it comes to hitting in the clutch, Mitchell doesnt seem to be worried about anything. With the bases empty, hes batting .245. With runners on, his average climbs to .374. With runners in scoring position, its even higher at .394.
He has made such great strides and because of his talent and makeup will continue to get better daily, Bell said about the young centerfielder. There are a few things we knew very early on. He can't get much more athletic, hes a great kid, and he is one of the most competitive kids we've ever had here.
He is so tough on himself. That gets in his way sometimes, but I think that kind of mentality will help him become the player that he hopes to be.
If he continues to hit like this, the White Sox believe hell be ready for the big leagues sometime in 2013. But in the meantime, Jared isnt thinking about next season. Hes focused on today.
My time will come, he said. If you start to think about getting promoted to the majors, its just added pressure on yourself. What I try to do I just enjoy the game every day, have fun, and let the chips fall where they may.