10/10/2013 3:48 P.M. ET
Mitchell looking to regain confidence in AFL
Former first-round pick hopes to show he has what it takes to stay with White Sox
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Jared Mitchell had turned a corner … or so it appeared.
The talented 24-year-old center fielder, who was the White Sox top pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, seemed big-league ready during Spring Training in '13. He hit .387 with one homer, three doubles and two triples over 31 Cactus League at-bats and looked every bit as comfortable at the plate as those statistics would indicate.
As the powerfully-built left-handed hitter departed Arizona for Triple-A Charlotte, the question wasn't so much if he could help Robin Ventura and the White Sox in 2013, but when he would help them.
So, what happened to this confident, productive Mitchell, who lasted only 53 at-bats with the Knights before returning to Double-A Birmingham?
"I guess kind of the results not being there and I kind of got away from the things I needed to do on a daily basis," Mitchell told MLB.com before suiting up for the Glendale Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League.
"A lot of times in the game of baseball, I think we all know this, sometimes we are our own worst enemies," said White Sox director of player development Nick Capra in regard to Mitchell's struggles. "We start thinking too much, being too analytical, and I see that getting in his way at times."
Capra readily admitted that Mitchell was in a "really, really good place" during Spring Training. That place turned dismal through Mitchell's .132 average in Charlotte and .174 average with the Barons. For the season, Mitchell hit a startling .167 with a .293 on-base percentage to go along with 123 strikeouts over 300 at-bats.
This unforeseen drop by the White Sox 10th-rated prospect per MLB.com added to an already interesting professional baseball odyssey.
Mitchell came to the White Sox as a football and baseball player at LSU, having won national titles in both sports. Splitting time between the two meant Mitchell's baseball skills were pretty raw, and those skills weren't helped by a tendon tear in his left ankle sustained during Spring Training in 2010 that cost Mitchell the entire season.
That ankle recovery wasn't complete, in reality, until the 2012 campaign when Mitchell hit .237 with 24 doubles, 13 triples, 11 homers and 21 stolen bases between stops at Charlotte and Birmingham. He also produced a .358 on-base percentage to go against 179 strikeouts.
One of the most maddening parts of Mitchell's struggles is that he is loaded with athletic ability and certainly puts in the hard work to get the most out of these skills. As Capra mentioned, Mitchell's development now could sit as a mind over matter sort of issue.
Here's where his current AFL stint comes into play, in that Mitchell is looking to regain his confidence and rhythm as a player.
"Kind of find the things I was doing previously and just kind of implement that and take it into the offseason," said Mitchell, who homered in his first '13 AFL game in Mesa. "Just the steady process of the things that I did work-wise, leading into the games. I kind of changed it and got out of that during the year a little bit."
"Again, we are just thinking more experience, better competition," Capra said. "He's getting the information, but it's how he processes it and puts it together on the field. Now it's kind of up to him."
Accomplished White Sox Major Leaguers such as Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham have talked in the past about trying to do too much to get out of a prolonged slump instead of sticking to and believing in what works. The process could get as frustrating as changing an approach at the plate on a monthly or even bi-weekly basis.
It's a theory to which Mitchell relates.
"Instead of staying with what we know works and knowing that it's always going to be here, instead of trying to change this and that, just staying the straight process and keep doing the things you are doing," Mitchell said. "Doing the things I need to do every day and being confident. Being confident with the 0-for-3 and confident in the 4-for-4. That's all it is."
Some might view this AFL stint as sort of a final stop for Mitchell to fix the on-field struggles as a member of the White Sox organization. But the White Sox aren't giving up on Mitchell, hoping it just has taken a little longer for things to come together, and Mitchell still firmly believes success will happen as part of this club.
In fact, Mitchell believes he's getting closer, even if the numbers don't necessarily back up that feeling.
"I'm not nearly as far off as what may be perceived as I am," said Mitchell, who appreciates the White Sox being "straight up" with him in their support. "I can't sit there and say I'm elated with the season I had. But it's all a work in progress. That's why I'm here today. It's another opportunity to get better, to keep moving."
"We believe in him," Capra said. "We have a lot of confidence in him and his ability as a baseball player. I don't know if he trusts us and believes in us. But we've got all the confidence in the world in him. Sooner or later it's going to click with this kid, and we are going to have a pretty good player."