With the Minor League baseball season well on it’s way, it’s always good to take a look at some of the better performers in the beginning of the year. Furthermore, it’s also good to note once-heralded prospects whose stocks have dropped the previous year and see if they are showing progress after lackluster seasons.
Two prospects that come to mind are Delino DeShields Jr. in the Astros system and Jared Mitchell in the White Sox organization. Both were First Round picks in their respective drafts, but are coming off mediocre seasons in 2011. However, both prospects have started off the year nicely, and it’ll be interesting to see if they can regain some of the luster that once made them such top prospects.
Let’s take a look individually at both Deshields and Mitchell.
2011 Numbers: .220 average, .305 OBP, .322 slugging, 9 home runs, 73 runs scored, 30 stolen bases, 52 walks, 118 strikeouts in 469 at-bats in Lexington (South Atlantic League).
Why did Deshields’ stock drop?
Deshields was the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft and for good reason. He is the son of Major Leaguer Delino DeShields (sons of former Major League players is always a plus in scouts’ eyes) and he was a two-sport athlete in high school (he was also recruited as a Division One football player) who held “five tool” potential in the eyes of many scouts and draft analysts. While he wasn’t imposing in terms of height (he stands at five-feet, nine-inches), his strong build had a lot of people envisioning him as a 20-20 or perhaps 25-25 home run-stolen base guy at the Major League level in the mold of a Dustin Pedroia or Ian Kinsler. Deshields was rated highly entering the 2011 season, as Baseball America rated him as the No. 2 prospect in the Astros system.
However, because of his youth and raw tools, Deshields struggled in his first full season in professional ball. Promoted to the Sally in 2011 after 18 games in 2010 in the Gulf Coast League and Appalachian League, Deshields struggled to make consistent contact at the plate, as evidenced by his 118 strikeouts and a contact rate of 75 percent.
Deshields’ season wasn’t a total loss by any means though. While he didn’t hit for high average, he did show a decent approach at the plate as evidenced by a BB/K ratio of 0.44, and he did showcase some of the speed that made him such a heralded prospect out of high school, as he swiped 30 bases on 41 attempts. However, while he did show glimpses of power potential (he hit nine home runs), his .102 ISO and .322 slugging demonstrated that his power tool still has a long ways to go in order to live up to those Kinsler/Pedroia comps.
Why is Deshields due for a bounce back year in 2012?
The Astros decided to have Deshields repeat in Lexington for 2012 and he is off to a good start, as he is hitting .293 with a .383 OBP and a .366 slugging in his first 10 games and 47 plate appearances. While the power hasn’t jumped off the charts (only 3 extra base hits so far, all doubles), he has looked more comfortable at the plate and is still showing ample speed and good instincts on the basepaths, as displayed by his five stolen bases on five attempts. He does have 12 strikeouts already, but that may be due simply to his patient approach, as he does have six walks to counter the high strikeout total. If he continues to build on this solid start in the Sally, he could be due for a promotion to High-A at some point during the course of the year, perhaps as early as the mid-year mark.
Deshields may not have the power scouts envisioned when he was drafted out of high school, but with his speed and ability to draw a walk, he could hold a lot of value as an ideal leadoff hitter for the Astros in the future. With Michael Bourn being traded last year, the Astros are definitely in need of somebody that can steal bases and generate runs on the basepaths. Defensively, Deshields showed progress in the field after a slow start (he committed seven errors in his first 13 games), but he has demonstrated some inconsistencies already this year, as he has committed 3 errors already and holds a fielding percentage of .897. That being said, he didn’t start playing second base full time until last year, so it may just be a matter of him getting adjusted to the position. Even if he can’t stick in the infield, he has the athleticism to make a move to the outfield, most likely center due to his speed and average arm strength.
It’s way too early to write off Deshields at this point. He still is young at 19 and his speed tool is a plus that could carry him at any level he’ll play at. If his approach at the plate sticks, and he is able to cut down on the strikeouts, Deshields could be a guy who’ll be starting for the Astros in a few years, maybe a couple if he really has a good year in 2012.
2011 Numbers: .222 average, .304 OBP, .377 slugging, 9 home runs, 74 runs scored, 14 stolen bases, 52 walks, 183 strikeouts in 477 at-bats in Winston-Salem (Carolina League)
Why did Mitchell’s stock drop in 2011?
Rated as the 55th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America going into 2010, Mitchell’s season was derailed by a torn tendon in his left ankle that occurred during Spring Training. Mitchell missed the entire year, but the White Sox still felt he was ready for High-A ball in 2011 (most likely due to a strong 34 game stint in the Sally in 2009 after he signed). The decision, ambitious considering he had missed an entire season of ball, didn’t pay off as, Mitchell struggled at the plate immensely. His 183 strikeouts were the third highest total in the minors last year, and he struggled with pitch recognition, as scouts noted that he chased a lot of balls out of the zone at the plate. Furthermore, graded as a stellar athlete (he played football at LSU in addition to baseball), his speed tool didn’t show as well as expected, as he only stole 14 bases on 20 attempts in the Carolina League.
Mitchell did show some positive signs, as he drew 52 walks (though considering his high strikeout total, it didn’t help his BB/K ratio, as it was 0.28 in 2011). One of the plus abilities of Mitchell’s game is his ability to be patient at the plate, as he did post a BB/K ratio of 0.58 in 2009 in Kannapolis, and a 0.89 BB/K ratio at LSU his final season there. However, making consistent contact has always been something that has haunted Mitchell over his baseball career, as he posted contact rates of 65 and 62 percent in the Sally and Carolina League, respectively.
Defensively, scouts noted that he still shows well in the field, noting his good range and average arm strength, which fits his expected position of center field. There is some concern though that the collision into the wall during Spring Training (which caused his ankle injury) has made him a little hesitant in the field, as scouts noted that he showed signs of tentativeness on balls that went over his head in 2011.
Why is Mitchell due for a bonce back year in 2012?
Despite the lackluster year in 2011, the White Sox decided to promote him to Double-A Birmingham to begin the year. While the aggressive move is most likely due to their lack of depth and talent in their system (the White Sox system is graded as the worst in baseball by almost everyone), Mitchell so far has made good on Chicago’s gamble. He is posting a slash of .313/.488/.500 in his first 10 games and 43 plate appearances, and he has four extra base hits, including two doubles and two triples. In addition, while he does have 10 strikeouts for the year already, he does have 10 walks, which shows that he has a much better idea at the plate so far than he did a season ago.
So far, the Barons haven’t let Mitchell run too much on the basepaths, as he has only one stolen base on two attempts. It is likely that Mitchell’s speed tool has deteriorated a bit since his injury, but then again, Mitchell may never be a high stolen base guy as a professional despite his athleticism. Even pre-injury, he only stole five bases on eight attempts in the Sally. He did steal 36 bases on 45 attempts his final year at LSU, but as a professional, he may be a 20-steal guy at the next level at best.
Mitchell has a lot of raw tools that are still developing, with power being the most notable one. His ability to hit the ball into the gaps and stretch out hits this year is a good sign that he is starting to build upon his power tool set, and his nine home runs last year also showed that he can have big-fly potential as a prospect as well. Because of his two-sport background, Mitchell may simply lack the experience and savvy of a lot of prospects, since this is the first time in his baseball career he has dedicated solely to baseball. However, scouts have noted his extremely strong work ethic, which bodes well in his favor and could mean that he is capable of improving as he gets more and more exposure to professional pitching.
While a lot of people are down on Mitchell, I think he has the capability to bounce back and still turn into a decent Major League player, most likely a better version of a Fred Lewis or a poor man’s Chris Young. How well his ability to make contact as he progresses through the White Sox system will be the key factor in terms of him living up to his potential, but if he is able to improve (and so far, he is showing signs that he is), then Mitchell could regain some of the hype that made him a first round pick in 2009. Furthermore, with the White Sox’s lack of position depth and aging Major League roster, Mitchell will have opportunities for advancement, not to mention an ample amount of patience from White Sox management.