Friday, April 11, 2014

Disciplined approach paying off for Knights prospect Jared Mitchell

By Seth Lakso, Charlotte Observer Correspondent 

Jared Mitchell stepped into the batter’s box in the third inning of Friday night’s Charlotte Knights home opener with a runner on first and laid off the first three pitches he saw.

With the count in his favor – three balls and no strikes – the former No. 1 prospect in the White Sox organization, according to Baseball America, took a look down the third-base line and saw that he’d been given the green light.

Being allowed to swing away meant a lot to the 25-year-old, who was hitting in the Knights’ No. 9 hole and fresh off a season split between Double-A and Triple-A where he hit just .167.

Mitchell chose to take the next pitch – a fastball away – for strike one.

The former star on both the diamond and football field at Louisiana State University before the White Sox selected him in the first round of the 2009 draft (23rd overall), liked his 3-1 pitch a bit more, and sent it off the wall in left for an RBI double.

“There’s situations where if we feel like a pitcher is going to give him a fastball that we will turn him loose because we trust him to swing at a good pitch,” said Knights hitting coach Andy Tomberlin. “If he had swung at a pitch out of the zone, we might have had to reconsider that liberty.”

Mitchell got to show off some of the speed that made him a star on the football field later in the inning, when he correctly read a deep fly ball and was able to tag up and move to third with one out.

In the fifth inning, Mitchell flashed some leather when he made a diving play in left field to help fend off a Tides rally.

“Physically, athletically, he’s as gifted as anyone on the field,” said Tomberlin. “But we need to get that correlate into success on the baseball field. What were doing is trying to put him in a position to allow his abilities to take over.”

In the bottom half of the fifth, Mitchell again worked his count to 3-0, knowing when he glanced down the line that he’d be green-lighted.

This time, the fastball missed middle-in and the 6-foot, 200-pound lefthander deposited it into the right field bleachers for his second home run of the season.

“I had the green light the at bat before, so when I looked down there, I kind of figured that he’d give it to me again,” said Mitchell. “He did, and I wound up getting a pitch that I could handle.”

Ultimately, Mitchell finished the night 3-for-5 and a triple shy of hitting for the cycle. The three hits raised his average to .250 (5-for-20) on the season.

“It’s still early in the season, but it’s good to have a game that kind of breaks you out a little bit,” Mitchell said. “It’s still a work in progress, but I feel good.

“I really haven’t changed too much about my swing mechanically,” he continued. “I’m just trying to stay in the zone as long as I can and to stay consistent. I want to try to make every at bat tough and not give any away.”

Asked if we should expect to see Mitchell continue to see green when he works the count in his favor, Tomberlin responded, “I’d say that would be a good possibility. It’s not a guarantee because different matchups dictate different things, but he’s proved early on that we can trust him not to swing at one out of the zone.”