If you'd thought it had been too long since we'd interviewed someone from the White Sox, you thought correctly. Your prize is the Robin Ventura bobblehead KenWo paid $20 for in the parking lot last Saturday. You may pick it up from his house.
This month's interview subject was the center fielder for the AA Birmingham Barons, Jared Mitchell. As always, huge thank yous go out to Marty Maloney for arranging the interview and of course to Jared Mitchell for agreeing to listen to our barrage of questions despite having a game to play in tonight. In on today's interview with me were Jim Margalus, James Fegan of White Sox Observer, Bill of White Sox Gap, Paul Banks of The Sports Bank, and Matt Adams of Southside Showdown. As per usual, anyone who was in on the call (or is a Sox blogger in general) can feel free to use this transcript as long as they credit the source.
Mark Primiano: First off, I'd like to thank you for not signing with the Twins when they drafted you back in 2006.
Jared Mitchell: /laughter
MP: What ultimately led to you deciding to go pro in baseball instead of football?
JM: I figured it was a good time in my career and it was a great opportunity. I knew at the end of the day some point I would have to make a decision, and like I said it was a great opportunity so I took it and ran with it.MP: If you had chosen to focus solely on baseball in college, where do you think you would be at in your baseball career right now?
JM: There's no question I'd be further ahead with the amount of at bats I wouldn't have gotten. The future will tell for me and I'm just going to keep playing my game everyday and get better everyday and do what I can to help my team win.
Jim Margalus: Is it safe to say you are 100% healthy.
JM: Yes, definitely.
JiM: When would you say you were finally able to get over the physical handicap of the ankle injury and any kind of mental edge you lost having to wonder about the ankle.
JM: Honestly? I think it was some time over the offseason. I finally felt around 100% healthy around November. You're only really able to play and be 100% yourself when you're 100% healthy. When you're 100% healthy, it kind of frees your mind up to everything else and lets you focus on the task at hand.
Bill: How much did your impressive spring training help get you to where you're at right now?
JM: It helps, don't get me wrong. It propels you to where you want to be, but spring training is spring training. When the season starts it's a whole new ballgame. For me I was able to get healthy in the offseason and find some confidence back and just work at it from there.
B: How close do you feel you are to being in the big leagues?
JM: To be honest with you, I really don't know. There's a really good group of guys up there and you never know what could happen or just what they're looking for. My main concern every day is to come out here and get better every day and be a good team player here. I've got to let the chips fall where they may.
James Fegan: Where you surprised with your promotion to Birmingham at the start of the year?
JM: I think it came down a lot to my mental makeup. They know what kind of person I am in the organization and me being finally healthy and looking like myself again is what probably made the decision for them. I wouldn't say I was surprised. I feel like I can compete on this level and levels above this, but they make the decisions and I just go with them.
MP: Despite being bumped up to Birmingham this year you're walking a lot more than in the past and striking out less. What adjustments have you made that led to this?
JM: The better plate discipline I guess comes from being in a better position at the plate. I can finally use my legs which allows me to see the ball better which I feel is helping a lot. You let yourself get into hitter's counts, you don't chase, and everything just kind of goes from there.
JiM: Given the year that you had last year and that the Sox threw a lot at you, both with the ankle injury and starting you at a new level, how do you separate progress from stats?
JM: That's the biggest challenge in the minors. Everything is about progress and not so much about your stats. For me or anyone else, the biggest thing I was able to do this year was not make everything try to come so quick and be able to go home at the end of the day and look at myself in the mirror and say "I'm making progress." It may or may not show up the stats, but the biggest thing is to know that you're making the progress. The stats will come when everything comes together, but you can't sit there and worry about the stats.
B: Is there something specific you are trying to work on at Birmingham?
JM: Everything. Trying to put it all together because I know I can be a dynamic player. I'm trying to put it all together and work on my tools all around and make everything come to life.
JiM: Now that the injury is behind you and you're getting into a full baseball calender, what kind of player do you think we'll see when you're finally into a regular developmental schedule.
JM: Like I said, I really think I can be a dynamic player that can really help an organization in every facet of the game. I'm going to do my best to work hard and bring my best to the table every day.
JiM: Whose game do you see yours resembling the most?
JM: There's players I like to watch, but I don't know if I exactly play like them. I was a big fan of watching Carl Crawford and Curtis Granderson play. Was a huge fan of Ken Griffey Jr. growing up. You take little things from everyone here and there but at the end of the day I'm Jared Mitchell and I'm going to try and be me, not anyone else. That's just how I look at it.
Paul Banks: How has playing in the high profile games, two National Championships in two different sports in college, prepared you to make adjustments in each level of your career?
JM: It definitely helped me with the competition level. Moving up, you start seeing a lot more competition. I was bred into competition at LSU. We played against the best in the nation every day and I think that helps it a lot. It helps you deal with a lot of struggles because when you're playing the best, it's not always going to be easy.
Matt Adams: With the time that you missed, do you find yourself trying to make up for lost time or were you able to reset the timeline in your head?
JM: Last year I think I subconsciously sat there and tried to make up for lost time and you can put yourself in a big hole trying to do that. In the offseason I was able to kind of clear my mind and get into the mindset where I was like "Go out there and do what you can every day. Don't worry about anything. Whatever happens, happens and I'm gonna make it work." That's where I'm at now and I don't worry about where I should be or what could have been. If I just keep playing every day, great things will happen.
JiM: We've talked to Buddy Bell a couple times in the past and he might be one of your biggest fans, if not THE biggest fan. Even when your numbers were down he was singing your praises and telling us to keep the faith in you. Can you talk about your relationship with Buddy Bell?
JM: He's a great guy. He's been a mentor and always been there to try and pick me up and help me. It's great when you have a great baseball mind like that in your organization who can sit there and tell you about struggles they might have had or players they might have seen. It really brings everything to the forefront and helps you keep moving when things don't seem like they're where they need to be.
MP: How much of a talent disparity have you noticed in the pitchers and hitters around you in the jump up to AA?
JM: Definitely talent. The game is faster at this level. I went through everything last year with the game feeling so much faster, but this year I'm allowing things to happen and it feels like everything is slowing down and I can see the game at a true speed. It almost feels like it plays slower than last year because I tried to do so much last year.
MP: Are there any specific pitches you struggle against or just find harder to deal with?
JM: I don't really know about all that. Everybody struggles against something, but when you're hot everything thrown up there seems like a beachball or a balloon. I really couldn't tell you, I don't know.
I like that he refused to tell a weakness. Well played, Mr. Mitchell. Well played.
JiM: Are there any plays this year that you've made that you realized after doing it that you might not have been able to do it last year?
JM: There've been a number of plays and things I've done at the plate, on the bases, in the field that I just wasn't back to doing yet last year. It might have take repetitions, but for whatever reason I just wasn't up to doing that last year. But now a year later stuff's starting to come back and it's kind of fun.
JF: In that vein, you only attempted 20 stolen bases last year and that was a big part of your game coming into the league. Is that something you're trying to reemphasize this season?
JM: Definitely. The speed is there so why not play with it? It helps put a lot more pressure on the defense so I really want that to be a part of my game again.
PB: What were your biggest takeaways from your Cactus League experience?
JM: Just getting able to see that level of competition and go out there and be even somewhat of a success helps to accomplish in your head that "Hey, you can play at that level!" Just to kind of see what those guys do and be around them in the clubhouse, how they carry themselves and go about their days helps a lot.
JiM: What's it like hitting at Birmingham? We hear a lot from hitters about how it's tough and the ball might not carry as well and that the fences are pretty far away. What are your initial impressions of beginning the season at AA?
JM: It's pretty funny. I played here a couple times at SEC tournaments in college and I never noticed how big the field was back then. But when you're here every day and get to know the field? You realize how much bigger the field is and plays, especially at night when the ball doesn't carry. The biggest thing is it really makes you learn how to hit: keeping the ball down, using the gaps, avoiding just hitting flyballs since they won't carry. I think if you can hit here at Birmingham, especially at night, then you can hit anywhere.
JiM: Yeah, it feels like we're seeing that with your triples total so far (7!).
MP: So which Baron not named Jared Mitchell do you think has the best shot of reaching the majors?
JM: We have some really good starting pitching here. Nestor Molina, Pedro Hernandez can really throw the ball out there and really attack hitters. You look up and it's the seventh inning and you're still in the game and they're still pitching in the game and that's really important for a team to have guys that can give you the confidence that you're going to be in the game every night and those guys have done just that.
B: How much do you miss playing football and was there ever a thought of you trying to be a two sport player?
JM: I'm not going to sit here and say I don't miss playing football. I grew up playing football. You get a special feeling about gameday. Practice? Practice not so much. It's not something I sit here thinking about much because I'm enjoying where I'm at and I'm happy where I'm at.