What An Athlete

Mitchell has success on football, baseball field

Jared Mitchell likes to keep his Louisiana State teammates and coaches on their toes.

Every Thursday, the Tigers spend much of their practice time holding a four-on-four scrimmage to keep everyone loose.

"There are four guys batting and four guys in the field, and the rest of the guys stand around the cage kind of razzing the hitter," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "(Mitchell) has a knack for coming up with some pretty funny lines. He's good at imitations too. Our hitting coach last year, Cliff Godwin, is real bowlegged when he runs, and Jared does a great imitation of Cliff when he runs, and he cracks everybody up."

Jared Mitchell
Mitchell, a third-team preseason All-America outfielder, keeps the Tigers on their toes during games, too. They never know when Mitchell will do something to electrify the dugout and make everyone in purple and gold leap to their feet.

Mitchell is such a freakishly good athlete that it's easy to get lulled into complacency watching him glide around the diamond. Mainieri said he gets caught all the time thinking Mitchell's not hustling, but in reality he just does things effortlessly. Mitchell will look like he's jogging up the line on a ground ball, but a glance down at the stopwatch reveals he reached first base in a mere 3.95 seconds.

Then he'll stun everyone by scoring from first base on a single to right field, as he did against Mississippi on March 28. Or he'll launch an opposite-field laser off the scoreboard in left-center, as he did last year against Kentucky.

"He hit one of the hardest home runs I have ever seen—our entire team just stood in the dugout and went, 'Wow,'" Mainieri said. "It wasn't the length of it, it was how hard it was hit. It was about 30 feet high, and in like a blink of the eye this thing had left the park—opposite field. I didn't know a human being could hit a ball that hard to the opposite field. He's got very underrated power. If you saw him without his shirt on, he's got a physique that is rock-solid."

Mitchell's chiseled build (he's listed at 6 feet, 192 pounds) and premium athleticism has made him an elite baseball and football prospect since his days at Westgate High in New Iberia, La. Heading into the 2006 draft, Mitchell ranked as the top baseball prospect in the state of Louisiana, and the No. 51 prospect in the nation. But he also was named the Louisiana 5-A football MVP his senior year after rushing and passing for more than 1,500 yards each.

Just how much of an athlete is Mitchell? He bats and throws lefthanded on the baseball field, but he was a righthanded quarterback on the gridiron.

Many baseball scouts regarded Mitchell as a football player with questionable baseball aptitude coming out of high school, but others thought his upside was worth the risk, and the Twins drafted him in the 10th round in 2006 but did not sign him. Though he grew up a Florida State fan, Mitchell accepted a football scholarship from LSU, where he converted to wide receiver. Mitchell won a national championship with the football Tigers as a sophomore, but he never blossomed into a star, hauling in just 24 receptions for 276 yards over his first three seasons.

Meanwhile, the two-sport commitment stunted his development on the baseball diamond. Mitchell has missed fall baseball practice all three years of his collegiate career, and he split time between baseball and spring football practice as a freshman and sophomore. Heading into this spring, Mitchell, Mainieri and football coach Les Miles all agreed that Mitchell should give football a break. If the baseball draft doesn't work out the way he wants, Mitchell can always return to football next fall.

"That's a big thing: I'm able to come out here and concentrate on just baseball," Mitchell said. "To be honest, you never know how much of a workload it is until you're doing just one of them. When you're doing two, you feel like your body can, but in reality, your body's tired. When you're doing just one, you get to feel how much more rested and relaxed you are, so it helps a lot."

Mainieri said he's seen a dramatic improvement in Mitchell's offensive approach and baserunning instincts this spring, thanks in large part to the extra practice time. He's gotten much better at using the opposite field and is a better two-strike hitter than he's ever been. The numbers bear it out: After posting a 32-98 walk-strikeout ratio over his first two seasons, Mitchell had drawn 31 walks and whiffed just 32 times through 101 at-bats in 2009. A .276 career hitter entering the spring, Mitchell is hitting .327/.493/.604 with six homers, 23 RBIs and 24 stolen bases in 27 attempts through 31 games.

As this is the first time he's ever devoted all his athletic attention to baseball, Mitchell still has plenty of things to work on. He could make better use of his speed if he can improve his bunting, and his reads and jumps in the outfield remain suspect. Mitchell began last year in center field before Mainieri moved him to left in favor of freshman Leon Landry, but scouts still think Mitchell profiles as a center fielder in professional ball, albeit a center fielder with a below-average arm. One scout likened him to Johnny Damon and Kenny Lofton.

With that kind of potential, there's no wonder Mitchell is generating first-round buzz leading up to June's draft. But Mitchell isn't worrying about the draft.

"I'm just a fun-loving guy. I find fun in basically anything I'm doing," Mitchell said.

"I do a lot of cracking jokes and keeping guys loose. But at the same time, when it's time to go, it's time to go. I'm going to be the first one in your face about doing things right, because I know I'm going to try my best to do everything right. And if I'm doing something wrong, I want somebody to be in my face about it. I just try to lead this team and help get everybody going."

If there's one thing Mitchell can do, it's get everybody going.