Mitchell Finds a New Home, Again

In the 2005 baseball season, infielder Russ Mitchell would probably have liked to say there is no place like home. For Mitchell though, knowing where that "home" was, that was the difficult part as he played for three teams in the Dodger organization. Now with the Columbus Catfish, Mitchell has started a new season with yet another new team.

"Last year was good," Mitchell recalled. "I bounced around a lot. I finally got out to Utah, where I got to play everyday. I felt good, had a good season, and just tried to carry it over to this year."

Once in Utah (with Ogden), Mitchell went on to success batting .289 in his 69 games. Before finding himself in Utah, Mitchell had the chance to play in Jacksonville in the 2005 season for the Dodger AA club.

"I was with them for about a week and a half," Mitchell said of his experience with Jacksonville. "It was a good learning experience. I had a big hit that helped win a game for them right before they clinched, so it was a good experience." During his stay with the Jacksonville team, Mitchell appeared in three games with five at-bats.

"I just picked up on some things in the week I was there, like plate discipline," Mitchell continued about his time with Jacksonville. "I learned from some of the older guys. It was a good experience. Just getting the AA experience was good."

While Mitchell's stay with Jacksonville was brief, he was able to walk away from his experience with a double and three runs batted in. However, he left Jacksonville with four strikeouts in his three games played.

"From a positive stand-point, he gets to see what it is like at different levels," Columbus Catfish Manager Travis Barbary explained. "Going up to AA and getting to play a little bit. At the same time, it can be tough. You don't get to settle in and you are moving around a lot. He seemed to handle it pretty well. So far this year, he's showing why the organization likes him."

Once the Jacksonville door was closed for Mitchell in the 2005 season, Mitchell took his game to Ogden. Now with the Columbus Catfish, Mitchell hopes to work his way back to AA where he hopes he can have more success.

"I'm pleased with my start to this year," Mitchell said. "My average has kind of dropped, but I'm starting to get it back up. I think I started out the way I wanted to, and hopefully I'll end it the same way."

After 82 games, Mitchell has a .244 batting average, but cooled off in the month of June. In June, Mitchell batted only .207 with 21 strikeouts in the 22 games. For Mitchell though, one can only expect him to find his hitter's stroke again.

"I'm a gap-to-gap hitter," said Mitchell. "I like hitting doubles. The home runs are going to come. I think I'm a gap-to-gap hitter. I just try to drive in runs and hit doubles."

The Catfish third baseman has 28 doubles for the 2006 campaign, as well as two triples and ten home runs. Mitchell has added 55 runs batted in and 60 runs.

"I think driving the ball to left-center," Mitchell said describing his strength as a player. "Hitting the ball gap-to-gap I think my biggest strength. I play pretty good defense too, but really I just try to drive the ball gap to gap."

Consistently looking to improve his game to reach the next level again, Mitchell finds himself looking to add another aspect to his game.

"I'm working in the cages on hitting to right-field, right-center," Mitchell told LADugout.com recently. "It is something I've struggled with, and it is something I'm working on right now. It is getting better everyday, but that's what I'm working on the most."

While working on hitting more to the right side of the field, his coaches feel he must improve another aspect of his game, an aspect that has lead to 65 strikeouts.

"Just for me, and I know Garey (Ingram) our hitting coach, it is just his plate discipline," explained Manager Barbary of what he would like to see Mitchell improve. "Just like last night (June 28), he struck out three times, and all three times he chased balls that were up and out of the strike zone."

"And when he's had his struggles, that what he does, he gets himself out," the Catfish manager continued. "Pitchers aren't getting him out. When he gets in good counts and he knows those fastballs are coming, he hits...at this level you see that with a lot of guys, the plate discipline, where they get themselves out on balls out of the strike zone instead of being more selective and getting in good counts."

With only 24 walks in his 74 games to go with his 65 strikeouts, Mitchell certainly has room for improvement. So for Dodger fans, the best may have yet to come with Mitchell. Once Mitchell learns better plate discipline, one can expect him to take off as a hitter.
"He's a leader for this team," said Catfish first baseman David Sutherland of his teammate. "He always seems to show up and get the big hit when we need it. He hits a lot of doubles and drives a lot of guys in. He plays a very good third base."

Doubles, runs batted in, and defense is what Mitchell's game is primarily about.

"I compare myself to Bill Mueller," Mitchell said while explaining his game. "A small third baseman that is going to hit 15 home runs, but is going to be a gap-to-gap hitter and hit for average."

While he may be a Mueller type of player on the field, off the field he adds his own flair to the clubhouse. For the player that is predominantly a third baseman, but has some work at first and second, Mitchell has earned the respect of his teammates as a player and leader.

"Well, he comes to the field everyday to play," admired teammate and fellow infielder Shane Justis. "He takes extra ground balls, extra swings. He's a real intense player, so he's ready when it comes 7:05, he's ready to play."

"Russ brings intensity to this team," continued Justis. "He wants to be here everyday. He's working hard and that rubs off on his teammates."

While Mitchell has a serious and intense side to him during games, off the field Mitchell brings something else to the team - laughter.

"Personality-wise, he's a great guy," said Manager Barbary. "He's one of those guys everyone likes to be around. He's a lot of fun. Every time you look up there are three or four guys around him. People are kind of drawn to him. He's an easy-going guy that likes to have fun. Keeps things loose."

"He has a good sense of humor," Justis said of Mitchell. "He's always making people laugh in the clubhouse and in the locker room."

"Russ is just a good guy to have on the team," said Sutherland. "He's funny, and he keeps everyone loose. In the games, he'll show up and do something really important. When we need a big play or a big hit, he'll be the one to do it."

The good guy has a new home in 2006, yet again, and his teammates certainly are happy keeping the door open for him to walk in every day.

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