The Dash are carrying four outfielders -- Trayce Thompson, Nick Ciolli, Michael Earley and Brady Shoemaker -- which means that the White Sox's first-round pick from 2009 is officially starting the season in Birmingham.
It sounded like the Sox were leaning this way when we talked to Buddy Bell on a conference call on March 23. At the time, it was undecided where Mitchell would start the season, but he made a case for Mitchell's promotion despite some very scary strikeout numbers at High-A:
We have to look at the past a little bit. He played at LSU, obviously as good of competition as you can face in college. Coming out of college for the short month that he played after he signed, then he went through all the health issues. He wasn't ever 100% healthy last year. Is he better off going to Winston and going through that again or going to Birmingham to figure it out there. Jared is such a mentally tough kid and maybe the most competitive kid we have here right now and people don't understand how big of a deal that is to us. This kid cares so much and plays as hard as anyone. In some regards, he doesn't deserve to go to Birmingham. But at the same time, the way he came into camp this year, he does deserve it. You send him to Birmingham and he has a cushion to figure it out. There are a lot of intangible things we look at in making our decisions. A lot of it is "What did these kids do the last months of last season? What did they work on over the winter?". We base some of it on last year, but more on how they developed over the course of the year. Numbers make absolutely zero matter to me. It's all about how much they progress. I think Jared has progressed well enough to go to Birmingham, but we're trying to figure out if that's the best thing for him.
Mitchell did what he could with his limited Cactus League playing time, hitting .385/.407/.538 with a double and a homer. Aesthetically, he appeared to have a purpose at the plate, making good contact throughout camp despite sporadic playing time.
On the other hand, he struck out nine times over 27 plate appearances, which gives him the same strikeout rate as his worrisome 2011 season with the Dash, when he hit just .222/.304/.377 and struck out 183 strikeouts over 541 PA. Moreover, the splits say that he wore down at the end of last year, striking out 43 times over 109 PA with a .450 OPS, so he didn't show improvement as the year went on.
But it's not surprising that the Sox are pushing Mitchell, given that they pushed Eduardo Escobar and Jordan Danks up the ladder in the face of massive power/contact imbalances. The results haven't been pretty -- Danks has stagnated, and Escobar, despite earning the utility infielder spot, hasn't proved he can hit in anything beyond a short season. Maybe they Escobar and Danks are who they are, and maybe Mitchell will be able to correct his game at a higher level given the unique nature of his problems (football player who lost a year of development time), but history says to remain highly skeptical.
In other Birmingham news, thanks to jorgefabregas for pointing out Tyler Saladino being featured on NPR's "Morning Edition."