Mitchell Gets Back On Track In AFL
PEORIA, Ariz.—Since his first full season was wiped out because of an injury, White Sox outfielder Jared Mitchell is in the Arizona Fall League trying to get things back on track.
After the White Sox made Mitchell the 23rd-overall pick in the 2009 draft, he got off to a great start in low Class A, hitting .296/.417/.435 over his first 139 plate appearances. Mitchell was exciting White Sox brass with his play during spring training heading into the 2010 season and there were discussions about jumping him to Double-A out of camp.
But the White Sox' plans were derailed when Mitchell tore a tendon in his left ankle on March 12 making a leaping catch against the wall to rob the Angels' Juan Rivera of extra bases.
"I kind of remember it like it was yesterday," Mitchell said. "It was the sixth inning in a game against the Angels. It was the first out of the inning and I was going back to make a play at the wall and I just kind of jumped up and my foot got planted in the wall at an awkward angle and it just wasn't a good angle for it, wasn't a good position to be in with the angle it was at and the force it went into the wall."
Just like that, his 2010 season was over before it even started. Mitchell couldn't wear a shoe on the injured foot until three months after the injury. He had surgery to repair the torn tendon and then spent two months on crutches and another month in a walking boot.
"I know everybody was excited about how he was playing," White Sox scouting director Doug Laumann said. "So it was kind of a letdown when we heard that that happened. But, stuff like that happens when you play all out like him and you go hard at it and stuff like that, those are things that are going to happen to you."
Mitchell recovered at home in Louisiana through mid-June before joining the high Class A Winston-Salem Dash for the rest of the rehabilitation process.
"It was baby steps, you know," Mitchell said. "First off, walking and then just kind of getting the strength built back up to be able to do explosive things. It was all a process. But I was able to resume baseball activities pretty early. I was hitting before July. It never really bothered me hitting, just the running and changing directions and throwing and putting it at awkward angles that would hurt it a lot."
The process wasn't easy. Mitchell's injury was unique, so there wasn't a timetable or schedule for him to follow based upon what others had experienced before him. He admitted wondering if he would ever make it back and said the toughest part wasn't the physical work required to get stronger and work through the process, but the mental aspect of not going out and playing everyday.
"For me, I'm used to be going all year long, playing football and baseball in college," Mitchell said. "So, to go and sit out and do absolutely nothing, it's tough. On top of that, it's tough seeing friends and people you've played with doing well and just sitting and watching. That's the toughest part about it. And then for me, the injury I had, was a situation where there aren't many cases of it. With ACLs or Tommy John, there's a lot of people that have had that and you know, usually people feel this, or usually people feel that. I didn't have that, so there were days when when I had bad days and I was like, 'I don't even know if this thing is going to come back,' So, I just had to keep my head in a good place and keep working."
The White Sox knew Mitchell would make it through the process because of his great makeup and strong work ethic.
"There's no question for us that one of the reasons we selected him was because of his makeup," Laumann said. "We knew an awful lot about him and I knew he had excellent makeup. . . So we knew, that if something like this were to happen, or if any obstacle a player comes in front of, whether it's an injury, whether it's failure or whatever, we knew he was the type of kid that would fight his way through it."
Now in the Arizona Fall League, Mitchell said his ankle is at about 90 percent.
"I would say the extra 10 percent is not so much explosive stuff, stuff that you can really see, it's just that I can feel and I know it's not all the way there yet," Mitchell said. "And I kind of think a lot of that is just getting used to everyday wear and tear on it again and getting used to using it everyday.
"The only thing that bothers me a little bit is when I'm taking lefthanded turns, I can kind of feel it a little bit. Other than that, it doesn't realy bother me."
Through his first 51 at-bats with the Peoria Saguaros, Mitchell was hitting .196/.281/.255.
"It's great just to be around guys again in the clubhouse, playing again, seeing some live pitching, It's been a long time, so it's just a real good feeling to be out here doing this ting.. You don't really know how much you have until you don't have it any more. So, it's a good feeling."
While he's glad to get back on track, Mitchell is taking things one day at a time and doesn't take for granted that he's in an organization that likes to move their prospects quickly—especially highly-drafted college picks. Second baseman Gordon Beckham, the team's first-round pick in 2008, spent just 59 games in the minor leagues before joining the big club. This year's first rounder, lefthander Chris Sale, was coming out of the White Sox bullpen after an 11-game tune up in the minors.
"That's all great, but at the end of the day, you also have to realize that everyone is different. and nobody's going to be treated the same way in that regard," Mitchell said. "People progress differently, so I never once, before when I was healthy or after being inured, thought well, 'This person or that person moved fast.' You just do things you need to do and you progress as you're supposed to progress. and that's all you need to really worry about. Because, at the end of the day, I don't make the decisions about who goes where and when they go where, so why even worry about it?"