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Southern notes: Mitchell regains form05/08/2012 10:29 AM ET
By Guy Curtright / Special to MLB.com
Jared Mitchell held onto the ball, impressing the White Sox and everyone who saw the spectacular play during a Cactus League game. But the catch came with a heavy price.
Mitchell tore a tendon in his left ankle crashing into the fence and missed all of 2010. Although he was back on the field last year, that season was also basically lost.
"I wasn't all the way back," the former Louisiana State two-sport athlete said. "I couldn't do things the way I was used to. I wasn't myself."
But after a difficult season a year ago in the Class A Advanced Carolina League, Mitchell is again showing off the skills that made him the No. 23 overall pick in the 2009 Draft.
Moved up by the White Sox to Double-A Birmingham despite hitting just .222 for Winston-Salem last year, the fleet-footed center fielder closed April with an 11-game hitting streak and was batting .310 with a league-leading six triples and a league-high-tying 24 RBIs through Sunday.
Mitchell, who bats and throws left-handed, enjoyed a five-RBI game with a homer during the streak and had a .434 on-base percentage thanks to 21 walks against 29 strikeouts in 29 games.
The strikeout total, although still high, is a major improvement from a year ago. Mitchell struck out 183 times in 129 games last season, and he hit .147 in the final month.
But Mitchell regained his form last fall in the instructional league and was a reborn hitter when he reported to Spring Training after a winter working out in Tampa.
The 23-year-old native of New Iberia, La., hit .360 with a double and two homers among his 11 hits in Cactus League play for the White Sox and kept on hitting once he got to Birmingham.
"Being away from the game for a whole year, not seeing pitching and everything, it was tough last season," Mitchell said. "You think you've got it figured out, and a couple days later it's like you haven't touched a bat in 10 years.
"Now, I'm physically back to where I was and I'm comfortable again. There is no sugarcoating last year. It was a struggle. But in the end I think I'm better for it."
Regions Park, with its distant fences, isn't an easy place to hit. But for Mitchell, it was a pleasant homecoming of sorts. LSU won two Southeastern Conference titles there during his college career.
"It brings back some good team memories," he said.
Mitchell, a wide receiver as well as center fielder, was part of two national championships at LSU. The Tigers won the BCS football title in 2007 and the College World Series in 2009, when Mitchell was the MVP.
"Both were great," he said of the national championships.
But there was no question that baseball was his sport. The White Sox, seeing Mitchell as a potential five-tool player, gave him a bonus of $1.2 million, and he appeared on the fast track to Chicago before being derailed.
Now everything is go again, and Mitchell is making up for lost time.
"I'm just taking things a day at a time," he said. "I'm having a lot of fun again."
Smolinski a spoiler: A leadoff single by Southern League leading-hitter Jake Smolinski was the only hit Mobile's Trevor Bauer allowed over seven innings in a rain-shortened 11-0 victory over Jacksonville. Bauer, Arizona's No. 1 prospect and No. 8 on MLB.com's Top 100 list, walked five while improving to 6-1 and lowering his ERA to 1.96. Smolinski was 19-for-39 during a nine-game hitting streak that was stopped the night prior to facing Bauer.
Gattis stays hot: Evan Gattis continued slugging away after being promoted to Mississippi from Class A Advanced Lynchburg when catcher Christian Bethancourt, Atlanta's No. 4 prospect, was sidelined by a strained hamstring. Gattis hit .320 with three homers and eight RBIs in his first six games for the M-Braves after batting .385 with nine homers and 29 RBIs in 21 Carolina League games.
Stop, thieves!: Montgomery set a team record with seven steals in a 6-5 victory at Tennessee. Clean-up hitter Henry Wrigley, who has seven homers, swiped his first three bases of the season and Brad Coon had a pair of steals. The Biscuits were a perfect 7-for-7 on their steal attempts.
Webster struggles: Allen Webster, the Dodgers' No. 3 prospect, fell to 1-4 with a 6.23 ERA for Chattanooga. The right-hander was hit hard in back-to-back starts against Mobile and Huntsville, allowing 11 earned runs in 10 innings. Webster came into the season No. 79 on MLB.com's list of 100 Top Prospects.