Mitchell's Journey Stops at First

This is Russell Mitchell's fifth season in the Dodger system. Throughout much of that time, he's been a player in search of a position. He's trying another spot this year- the one all hope finally finds a mesh of abilities and need.

Mitchell was a shortstop at Cartersville, Ga., High when he was drafted in the 15th round in 2003. That's where high school teams almost always place their best athlete. Frequently, though, those good enough to get a chance professionally don't have the skills to stay at that demanding spot in their career.

That was true in the case of Mitchell; he seemed to have the arm strength and the coordination of the hands and feet but he didn't possess the required range for short. So, his first stop as a pro was third. He did well enough in the field there but other factors began to weigh in.

For one thing since his signing, the likes of Andy LaRoche, Blake DeWitt and, later, Josh Bell all became Dodgers and all played third. All seemed more likely prospects than Mitchell, particularly because there was another disturbing issue.

In his first three years, Russ produced exactly one home run. That was as a rookie with the Gulf Coast team. Third is a position where some pop is a requisite so a couple of more things happened. They began tinkering with his swing in order to get more juice in his bat while at the same time began moving him around the diamond in search of a likely spot.

In 2005 at Ogden he loaded up at the plate, knocking 13 out of the yard. Meanwhile, he tried some second base as well as first. He himself wanted a shot at the outfield but they felt he didn't have enough speed to be useful out there. Always he kept winding up back at third.

Last year he racked up 19 homers - plus 40 doubles - so they're satisfied that problem has been solved. However, there was this position thing so they had another idea. Thus, the fall in the Arizona Instructional League found him one of a trio being taught the rudiments of catching. Lucas May and Carlos Santana were the others.

May and Santana seemed to catch on, no pun intended, but Russell didn't. So, at the start of spring training he was back at third . Not for all that long, though. That old position shuffle was on again.

DeWitt had been playing second but they decided to move him back to third and shove him back from Jacksonville to Inland Empire at the same time. That blocked Russell there. However, that same team lacked a first baseman so he was sent across the diamond.

That's what he's doing now. He seems to be handling the position well enough and the bat has generally been cooking. Right now, he's hitting .341 and, while he has only one homer thus far, he has socked seven doubles plus one triple for a more than respectable .541 slugging percentage.

He's played first before so he's been picking up the use of the big glove satisfactorily. There's not as much competition at that spot, either, south of James Loney. Now he hopes his travels around the diamond have ceased so he can concentrate on his journey upward through the system.