White Sox farmhand Mitchell remains confident

White Sox farmhand Mitchell remains confident

White Sox farmhand Mitchell remains confident
CHICAGO -- At some point around 4 p.m. CT on Friday afternoon, featured players from the 2012 White Sox will be introduced to the SoxFest crowd at the Palmer House Hilton in downtown Chicago.

As the names of Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, John Danks and Jake Peavy are called and they make their way up to the stage, Jared Mitchell will be cooling down in Tampa following another intense offseason workout. There was a time, when Mitchell was selected by the White Sox with the 23rd overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, where the organization quite possibly believed Mitchell could be in Chicago with much of the rest of the active roster this weekend.

He came to the White Sox after splitting time between football and baseball at LSU, but the left-handed-hitting outfielder had five-tool success story written all over him. One serious ankle injury and one subpar 2011 showing later, and Mitchell now is trying to shake loose the bust label so often attached to highly touted prospects who don't quickly rise to the Majors.

In a recent interview with MLB.com, Mitchell refused to put a timetable as to when he should start roaming the outfield at U.S. Cellular Field. He also didn't sound like a young man bothered by criticism or plagued by outside doubts.

"No, it's not about pressure. It's more of a driving force with me," said the low-key Mitchell of the skeptics' view of his ability. "People doubting me makes me want it more. I'm looking forward to this year. I can't wait to get started. I have a lot to prove, and I'm going to put it all out there every day.

"Honestly, you learn don't put a timetable on anything. The focus is being as good as I can be at whatever level I'm at. That's all that matters."

Mitchell earned a non-roster invite to upcoming big league Spring Training after hitting .222 with nine homers, eight triples, 58 RBIs, 74 runs scored and 14 stolen bases for Class A Winston-Salem in 2011. Especially troubling were Mitchell's 183 strikeouts in 477 at-bats.

But this past year in the Carolina League marked Mitchell's return to baseball. He missed the entire 2010 campaign after suffering a torn tendon on the inside of his left ankle when making a spectacular catch and crashing into the left-field wall during a mid-March Cactus League game in Tempe. Mitchell had already been reassigned to Minor League camp, but still made a positive impression in his work with the White Sox.

There was a point during the 2011 season where Mitchell described the surgically repaired ankle with the term "as good as it was going to get," which sounds a little bit short of completely healed. After an impressive instructional league showing, Mitchell went home and was surprised to have more spring, range of motion and flexion in the ankle that he didn't have the whole year.

"Better than it had been in a while," Mitchell said. "It wasn't all the way back [in 2011]. It wasn't all the way strong, and it hadn't been used to doing stuff on it every day. It took time to come back and get into that shape."

Working through the normal routine of a baseball season and getting back to what made him previously successful, when Mitchell hit .327 for LSU and then .296 for Class A Kannapolis in 2009, became major adjustments. He described the 2011 season as a valuable learning process, and not disappointing as much as one week he would feel great and then feel as if he had never played the game over the next two weeks.

"I was missing that consistency and figuring it out on a day-to-day basis," Mitchell said. "In the broad sense of things, I was out of competition for so long that I needed to learn some of those things I did on and off the field. When I got away and thought about things, I realize the things I didn't do I had done in the past to make me successful. It made sense why this was happening."

Jeff Manto, who will serve as hitting coach on Robin Ventura's first staff, worked with Mitchell over the past three years as the organization's Minor League hitting coordinator. Manto praised Mitchell for the strides he made during instructional league and believes this 23-year-old still can become a solid Major League force.

"One thing with Mitch, this guy hasn't had 1,000 at-bats, not straight," Manto said. "He has gone through some tough times, and he never complained. This is the first time he's playing high-level baseball full-time. He has some things to figure out, but he is athletic enough and he has the tools.

"Some things have to be worked out, but I think he has a chance. He's not a finished product. While you can't hide from the numbers, they are not a true reflection."

Current workouts in Tampa, lasting until Feb. 11, begin for Mitchell at 8 a.m. with a lot of "movement stuff," followed by hitting and throwing. After lunch, Mitchell lifts and takes ground balls. The eight-hour day concludes around 4 p.m.

All of this committed time and work is geared toward Mitchell getting back on track potentially for Double-A Birmingham in 2012. There are no worries for Mitchell about falling down the top prospects lists -- he leaves that for his dad and family to peruse.

His confidence hasn't dropped. Now, he's looking for the results to match.

"You learn over time that you can't control any of that stuff, so I just play my game and let that speak for itself," Mitchell said. "The biggest problem I ran into last year was letting the outcome of each game determine how I felt about the day.

"Really, I never did that before. I sort of figured that out in [instructional league]. I'm completely back emotionally and with the investment into work I put in every day. I realize if I put in quality work, sooner or later it's going to show."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.