The Unexpected Rise of Jermaine Mitchell

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Back when I first started writing about prospects in the spring of 2008, I didn’t have enough of a comprehensive knowledge of all of them to really make an accurate top 100 list, so it shouldn’t come as a shock that I went overboard with ranking prospects of my favorite team, the Oakland A’s. One of those prospects was outfielder Jermaine Mitchell, who, according to Baseball America, ranked as the system’s fifth-best prospect that season after hitting .288/.390/.413 as a 22-year-old in the Midwest League. In other words, he projected as a fourth outfielder.

Mitchell, like many prospects, failed to build on his low-minors momentum, and he quickly dropped off of my radar and everyone else’s. It took him nearly three years to get out of the offense-friendly California League, after all, and when he finally did last year (at age 25, no less), he slugged under .300 in Double-A.

You’d think that would be the curtains on Mitchell’s career, but two months into 2011, it’s probably time to take him a bit more seriously.

Yes, this is a 26-year-old in Double-A, but I don’t care how old the guy is; you just don’t ignore .367/.490/.668 batting lines. Seemingly out of nowhere, Mitchell has shown all the skills he was supposed to show years ago. His plate discipline (46/47 K/BB) has been excellent, and while he hasn’t done well on the basepaths (10-for-19) he’s got enough speed to be a sound baserunner and good corner outfield defender who can spot in center field. It’s the David DeJesus skillset, basically, and DeJesus has already accumulated 20 WAR in his career, so it can certainly help a team.

That particularly applies if the team in question is Oakland, who’s struggled offensively for seemingly a decade now and has outfielders DeJesus, Coco Crisp, Josh Willingham, and Hideki Matsui (hey, he’s technically an outfielder!) possibly out of the picture this fall with their contracts set to expire.

Mitchell likely won’t break in before at least September, barring a cascade of injuries (always a possibility with the A’s), but if he can translate his success to Triple-A, he could get a serious look for an outfield job next spring. In a farm system that needs a lot to go right, Mitchell’s surge after three years of mediocrity is a more-than-welcome development.

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Tags: Jermaine Mitchell Midland RockHounds Oakland Athletics

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