This Week in White Sox Minor League Baseball

This week, all Jared Mitchell:

The White Sox drafted Mitchell 23rd overall in the 2009 draft.  The choice was widely praised at the time.  While recognizing that Mitchell was quite raw, particularly due to playing football at LSU, it was also recognized that he was the prototypical high upside toolshed.  While possessing only an average, at best, arm, the other tools graded out well above average.

Here's what Kevin Goldstein had to say about him immediately before the draft:

The Good: The best college athlete in the draft by a mile; he's made consistent progress at LSU as far as his hitting, especially in developing a more patient approach and finding his power; he's plus-plus runner and a true weapon on the basepaths.
The Bad: He's far more raw than most players out of a major college, with lots of swings and misses in his game; he is not an instinctual outfielder.
In A Perfect World He Becomes: He has true impact potential, but comes with a fair share of risk.

And what he had to say immediately after: "That's upside, and that's up the middle. You just watch his video and you'd think he was a top 10 guy. Love, love, love this pick."

Like most White Sox draft picks, he signed quickly and was assigned to Low-A Kannapolis.  In 34 games, he put up a good line: .296/.417/.435.  As expected, the "swing and miss" in his game was still present, to the tune of a 35% strikeout rate.  But it was accompanied by a 16.5% walk rate, showing that the patient approach had translated to the pros.

In the offseason, Baseball America rated him the #55 overall prospect, while Goldstein had him at #61.  Needless to say, the expectations were high in 2010 spring training.

Unfortunately, as Phil Rogers loves to remind all of us, the White Sox were chosen to meet the Cubs on March 12, 2010 in the Northsiders' annual money-spinning adventure to Las Vegas.  Instead of scheduling a single game that day, the White Sox also had a split squad game against the Angels, which necessitated some players coming over from minor league camp to fill out the team.  Mitchell was playing left field in the 6th inning and, on a liner into the gap off the bat of Juan Rivera, he collided with the wall.  The collision resulted in a torn tendon in his left ankle.  And things have been all downhill since.

His missed the entire 2010 minor league season.  He returned for the fall instructional league and, in an effort to get him some live game action, he was sent to the Arizona Fall League.  Expectations were set quite low, as Mitchell hadn't played since early March, had no experience above Low A and thus remained essentially the same raw player he was when he was drafted.  And he'd be facing many of baseball's best prospects, nearly all of whom had reached the upper minors.

He still managed to fall short of expectations, achieving the title of worst hitter in the league with a .163/.239/.200 line. 

His 2011 minor league campaign hasn't been much better.  For High A Winston-Salem, he's put up a .202/.243/.372. Most disturbing is the increase in strikeout rate to 39% (fueled by a minor league leading 50 strikeouts) and a collapse in his walk rate to just 4.5%. He's also been inept against right-handers, which isn't what you want to see from a left-handed hitter. Reports are that the speed is still essentially there, something which was a concern after the injury.  But that frankly doesn't really matter at this point if the guy can't make contact.

The low point of his season was an 0-5, 5 K "performance" on Sunday.  Here's an eyewitness account of that event from a regular follower of the Dash:

Struck out 5 times (4 swinging, 1 looking) in 8 innings. I’ve seen close to (or maybe over) 1000 professional games in my life and I don’t ever recall a platinum sombrero in a regulation game.

He was swinging the whole time until his last AB. Everything was off-speed and mostly sliders and curves that were thrown for strikes. By the 5th AB he was holding his bat, but the pitches were being called strikes anyway. He looks lost at the plate – he just can’t hit the pitch even in the strikezone. No one on that team other than Jose Martinez is hitting the ball and sometimes it seems contagious – but Mitchell will swing at the same pitch every time – gotta think it’s his timing.

Plainly, this isn't looking good.  The White Sox reportedly tweaked his mechanics in the offseason to shorten his swing (and thus limit strikeouts).  Obviously the opposite has happened and the reports I've gotten are that his swing is still too big.  The criticism of his lack of instincts in the outfield also remains, suggesting he may be destined for a corner.  It's far too soon to call a 22 year old a bust.  But we're certainly approaching the point where a demotion to Kannapolis may be required to get him back on track.

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