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Garrett Mitchell: not the Mariners’ typical college draft prospect

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On the surface level, Garrett Mitchell seems like the boring, safe pick the Dipoto Mariners usually make. He’s actually much more interesting.

Washington v UCLA Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images

For all the splashy trades, there is one arena in which the Jerry Dipoto Mariners have played it conservatively: the draft. In the first five rounds of the MLB draft, the Dipoto-led Mariners have selected high school players, typically considered the riskiest demographic, only twice: Joe Rizzo in 2016 and Sam Carlson in 2017, both in the second round.

While each of us on staff have our own favorite prep hitter (I like the pure swing of Robert Hassell; John enjoys Austin Hendrick’s ability to light up the Allegheny Valley with his power; Joe drools over beef-boy-in-training Zac Veen), one thing we all agree on is that we’d like to see the Mariners take a high-upside prep player with star potential to dream on, especially after last year’s class of serviceable, if unexciting, college arms. Given past draft history though, as well as the stated desire to return to contention within the next few years, it seems like that is a dream we must collectively release into the wind. I for one welcome our next collegiate first-round overlord.

With the first five picks seemingly locked, in name if not in order (Austin Martin, Spencer Torkelson, Nick Gonzales, Asa Lacy, and Emerson Hancock), the draft opens up right where the Mariners will be selecting.

Yesterday, Joe (hopefully) got you hyped up about a college arm that is still plenty electric in Max Meyer; today I hope to do the same with UCLA’s Garrett Mitchell, the other likely contender for the sixth pick in the draft.

I wrote up Mitchell in the general draft overview back in December, and obviously, sadly, we don’t have much, if any, new info to add to that profile. Some kind soul on YouTube did make this compendium of Mitchell’s 2020 highlights for your perusal:

But before breaking that down, let’s go back and dive a little deeper into Mitchell’s baseball journey.

Mitchell had a fair amount of draft buzz coming out of baseball hotbed Orange Lutheran in 2017, when he appeared on the showcase circuit, impressing in the Perfect Game All-American Classic with his well-rounded set of tools. A.J. Lamanda, the hitting coach at OLu and a veteran of California’s baseball scene himself, said Mitchell is one of the greatest talents he’s seen and fits right in with players he came up with who went on to become major leaguers themselves like Mark Trumbo and Evan Longoria. His head coach, Eric Borba, called Mitchell the most talented player he’s ever been around and described his five-tool skillset as Mike Trout-adjacent. Baseball America graded him as an 80 runner, Keith Law proclaimed him as one of the draft’s best athletes and the 36th-best prospect in the draft, and MLB Pipeline projected him going somewhere in the competitive balance-second round area. However, Mitchell didn’t hear his name called until the 14th round, by his not-quite-hometown Athletics, and so packed his bags for the short drive from Orange to LA.

Potential five-tool talents like Mitchell don’t usually get to college, especially when one of the loudest of those tools is elite speed, a tool that only worsens with age. However, the hit and power tools are twin kings in scouting, and there were concerns about Mitchell’s swing path (described, charitably, by MLB as “not the prettiest”) and the fact that Mitchell seemed to have trouble translating his raw power into game power. The southern California kid also had a strong commitment to UCLA, which he described as his “dream” school. Further complicating Mitchell’s profile was the fact that he is a Type 1 Diabetic who wears an insulin pump at all times, and seeing how 2017 was only three actual years ago but [checks calendar] also apparently three hundred years ago, that could have been a factor in teams going in other directions.

Since it came up, let’s go ahead and explore what a diagnosis of diabetes means in baseball, since I didn’t get into that too much in the last article and also have lots and lots of time to read medical journals right now. According to a study published in Sports Health way back in 2010, “most people with diabetes can safely participate in sports at recreational and elite levels with attention to appropriate precautions.” Those precautions include being aware of symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), as exercise can exacerbate hypoglycemia and lead to ketoacidosis, a buildup of acidic compounds called ketones in the blood that can lead to a health emergency or even death. There are special considerations for endurance athletes, or those whose athletic activity is sustained for several hours, and Dr. Peter Farrell cautions in Sports Science (2003) that further testing is needed to address endurance athletes specifically.

However, there is a history of Type 1 Diabetics (T1D) having successful careers in many major sports, including football’s Jay Cutler, soccer’s Borja Mayoral, and even several recent examples from baseball. Athletics outfielder Sam Fuld, diagnosed with T1D in childhood, ran a camp for many years for young athletes diagnosed with T1D, and has acted as a friend and mentor to Mitchell. Reds outfielder Adam Duvall also has Type 1 Diabetes; while diagnosed as pre-diabetic as a kid, Duvall saw his condition worsen while playing A ball for the Giants, which resulted in him losing 20 pounds while having to learn to manage his condition in addition to the rigors of playing pro ball. White Sox pitcher Dylan Covey didn’t learn he had T1D until his post-draft physical. Former Mariner Brandon Morrow was diagnosed at 17, as was Cardinals phenom Jordan Hicks, who even has Diabetic Phenom! stitched on a glove. And there are more T1D players poised to make the leap into pro ball; sophomore pitcher Dillon Marsh at Kentucky is a Type 1 Diabetic who is active in raising funds for the JDRF. Mitchell, who like Fuld was diagnosed as a child, has had over a decade of managing his condition in response to his activity, including two-plus years playing Division 1 baseball at one of the nation’s top programs. Theoretically that should be enough to assuage any draft room concerns.

Let’s return, then, to the tools. The speed is beyond reproach; even several years after posting a Rickey Henderson-like 6.35 60-yard dash and a Billy Hamilton-like 3.95 out of the box at the National High School Invitational, Mitchell remains one of the fastest players in college baseball. He set a school record in his sophomore year when he led the NCAA in triples with 12, two more than the most triples hit in MLB in 2019. He also went 18-for-22 on the basepaths, In 15 games in 2020, he was already 5-for-6 in stolen bases when play was suspended. It is genuinely fun to watch the explosive Mitchell scamper around the bases or in the outfield, especially at a time when scampering is in such short supply in baseball.

Mitchell’s speed helps him in the outfield, where he has improved from the at-times suspect routes he would take in high school; opinions are divided as to whether he’s an average or above-average defender in center, with the latter group weighing his college performance more heavily. Mitchell doesn’t have the elite ability to track the ball that is instinctual among the game’s best center fielders, but has a strong work ethic and might take a step forward with pro coaching given his natural speed and athleticism. Mitchell also has a plus arm, strong and accurate, so even if he’s average in center the arm would play in a corner.

Reading this profile without looking at a picture of Mitchell, you might have the mental image of other speed-and-defense players—and indeed, there is something about Mitchell’s personality that reminds me strongly of fellow Californian Braden Bishop. Like Bishop, Mitchell is also somewhat soft-spoken, humble, and quick to redirect any praise onto his teammates; on a personality level, he is also similarly open about his health challenges and comfortable in his own skin (he surprised an interviewer lately by unabashedly admitting to spending his quarantine time watching The Suite Life of Zach and Cody). But at 6’3”/220, Mitchell isn’t the prototypical slap-hitting speedster. Mitchell has long legs and a powerful lower half with strong quads, and a broad chest and shoulders that he’s built up over his time as a Bruin, as well as seemingly twice the amount of neck he had as a prep prospect.

With his big, strong frame, Mitchell is able to put a charge into the ball when he makes contact, but so far the balls have mostly declined the invitation to go over the fence. Mitchell has been able to hit to all fields with authority since he was a teenager, but his immense raw power hasn’t shown up in games—in home runs, at least. He only had six long balls last year, even while racking up doubles and triples thanks to his elite speed. He’s still able to punish a mistake pitch made on the inside part of the plate, but mostly by pulling it to the right side—at which point the ball flies 500 feet, which is part of what exasperates scouts about Mitchell. The power is there, it just isn’t being fully unlocked in games for some reason.

Part of the culprit may be his swing, which has been reworked some at UCLA but remains more level, suited for gapping doubles but not really putting balls over the fence. Mitchell also has a propensity to get on top of balls and put them on the dirt, where they’re hit so hard they can eat up a hapless infielder. With strong plate discipline, a quick bat, and an ability to cover the plate well, Mitchell is good at making loud, hard contact, and especially gifted at putting the ball where defenders aren’t. Mitchell has also introduced a timing mechanism into his swing, a twitching of the hips right before the ball is delivered, perhaps as a reminder to activate that powerful lower half, something he wasn’t always doing in high school.

hips, activate!

Garrett Mitchell isn’t a typical college prospect; most college players lack the ceiling his immense potential power brings. However, even if the power doesn’t blossom further, Mitchell’s solid average-to-better tools across the rest of his game give him a safe floor. Could the Mariners, though, be the organization to unlock Mitchell’s gargantuan raw power to help him reach his five-tool ceiling? If Seattle does take Mitchell at #6, we might not get to watch the team slowly develop a prep player, but the organization would still be setting for themselves a developmental challenge with an immense payoff if they succeed. Think “Evan White swing change” but dial it up to 11. This extreme variance means the speed-and-defense, contact-oriented version of Mitchell is simultaneously a Very Mariners pick at #6, while the Dreaming-on-Mike-Trout-Lite version of Mitchell is an atypical choice for an organization that likes to play it safe in the draft. Call it Schrödinger’s prospect. To be honest, it feels fitting to pick an atypical prospect like Mitchell in a year that’s been anything but typical.

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Want to hear more about Mitchell and the Mariners from an actual draft expert? Check out the Lookout Landing Podcast with MLB’s Jim Callis as a guest, available wherever podcasts are sold freely available for download.