Mitchell's Standout Season Continues In AFL

Mike Mitchell's career in the A's chain got off to a slow start when he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2003. After two years of recovery, Mitchell was finally healthy in 2005. In 2006, he made up for lost time with an outstanding season that saw him start in A-Stockton and earn a promotion to AA-Midland with a brief stop in AAA-Sacramento. Now Mitchell is continuing that success in the AFL.

Coming into the 2006 season, Mike Mitchell's career high for innings pitched in any professional season was 34.1 innings, which he achieved in 2005. So you would think that after throwing 67 innings in 2006, Mitchell's arm would be aching this post-season.

You would be wrong.

Mitchell, a survivor of Tommy John surgery in 2003, is still going strong this off-season, pitching in relief for the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League. Through October 23, Mitchell has made five appearances for the Desert Dogs and has allowed only one run in 4.2 innings of work. Perhaps most impressive is his K:BB ratio, which is a perfect 5:0.

Despite the heavy workload this season, Mitchell feels as strong as ever.

"I feel great now. I know that a lot of people talk about how a full season can wear you down but I think as long as you maintain your fitness throughout the season, it isn't really that bad. I'm throwing as hard right now as I was during the regular season," Mitchell said after the Phoenix Desert Dogs' 3-2 win over Mesa on Monday. Mitchell threw 0.2 scoreless innings in that contest.

Mitchell was selected by the Oakland A's in the 35th round of the 2003 draft out of St. Charles Community College in Missouri. Unfortunately for Mitchell, he injured his elbow before his career even got off the ground and it would be more than a year after he was drafted before he got into a professional game. Mitchell made seven appearances in 2004 for the A's Rookie League team, but he said that he wasn't really at full strength for two years.

"Before then, I was often sore for a day after I threw, so it took about two years to get to the point where I could pitch without soreness in back-to-back games," Mitchell said.

He was eased back into a full-time schedule in 2005. He made 26 appearances on the season, split between short-season A-Vancouver and low-A Kane County. He pitched pretty well, allowing nine earned runs in 24.1 innings. However, his K:BB ratio was only average (25:15), as his control wasn't completely back to where it was before the surgery.

That all changed in 2006, as a completely healthy Mitchell took the California League by storm. He began the year as the Stockton Ports set-up man and then moved into the closer's role once Marcus McBeth was promoted. Mitchell was outstanding for Stockton, saving 18 games and striking out 41, while walking 14. His performance earned him a trip to the California/Carolina League All-Star Game.

Soon after the All-Star break, Mitchell was promoted to AAA-Sacramento to reinforce the depleted River Cats' bullpen. After a brief stint with Sacramento, Mitchell returned to the Ports for a short time. He was then promoted to AA-Midland, where he finished the season. All told, Mitchell finished his breakout campaign with a 3.22 ERA in 52 appearances for three clubs. He allowed less than a hit an inning (66 in 67 innings) and he struck out 59 against 26 walks. Mitchell gave up only two homers throughout the season.

Not surprisingly, Mitchell enjoyed the ride this season.

"It was really nice. Luckily I got to go to the All-Star Game [in the California League] and that was a great experience. Then, I think right after the All-Star break I was sent up to AAA-Sacramento briefly. That was a very different experience. It was great to go up there and realize that I could pitch against that high level of competition," Mitchell said.

"It was nice to get to see the different levels and to move around a bit. I got to meet a lot of new guys, especially at AAA, because a lot of those guys had been there all year."

Mitchell learned a lot about pitching from his promotions through the higher levels of the minors.

"In the lower levels, you can't really set guys up because a lot of the time, they are really swinging at anything around the plate. As you move higher up, the hitters become a lot more selective and you have to approach them with a plan," Mitchell said.

"On the one hand, it's tough because if you make a mistake to these guys, they aren't likely to miss it. On the other hand, it gives you confidence that you can really pitch because you can set-up an at-bat the way you'd like to."

Mitchell's fine season earned him a coveted spot in the prospect showcase, the Arizona Fall League, where he is facing even a higher level of competition.

"Obviously, the hitters up here are top-notch so you have to be on your game at all times. It's a lot of hard work to keep your mechanics really sharp with the level of competition that you are facing here. You can't afford to make a mistake to these guys, so you really have to work hard to throw quality pitches all of the time," Mitchell said.

Mitchell has been working on keeping his mechanics solid and on developing a change-up during his time in Arizona.

"I don't really trust it completely yet so I haven't thrown it a lot to these guys. I have thrown a couple of good ones though, so I think it's coming along," Mitchell said.

Mitchell is also soaking in the advice of Phoenix pitching coach Tom Signore of the Toronto Blue Jays organization.

"It's always nice to get a different perspective. Every pitching coach you work with has a different approach and different aspects of pitching that he can teach you and that is very valuable. It's fun to pick his brain and to see what he can teach you," Mitchell said.

As a St. Louis area native, Mitchell is keeping a close eye on this year's World Series when he isn't competing for Phoenix. However, he isn't without divided loyalties.

"I grew up rooting for the Cardinals, but it's funny because on Phoenix we are playing with the Detroit guys and some of them spent time at the major league level this year, so if Detroit wins, they'd get rings, so for that reason I wouldn't mind seeing the Tigers win, too. I guess I'm rooting for both teams," Mitchell said.

With the rate Mitchell moved through the A's system this season, he may have an even more vested interest in the World Series in the near future.


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