Major league organizations realize the player development process can be a marathon, particularly when it involves pitchers drafted out of high school. The trek offers countless hills and valleys with a few straightaways mixed in, making those who emerge from the process better prepared for the challenges that await at the game's top level.
Bryan Mitchell has discovered these ups and downs since signing with the New York Yankees in 2009. After spending two slates in the short-season ranks, those learning curves have continued this year in the South Atlantic League. At times he has been dominant, including his five starts in May when he was 3-0 with a 1.55 ERA. Other outings have been a little more difficult, including his first two starts in June in which he went 0-2 with an 18.69 ERA.
"I came into this season just wanting to get off on a good foot and I feel like I did that," said Mitchell, who's 4-4 with a 3.74 ERA in 12 starts this year. "My main goal right now is to stay down in the zone and try to throw strikes."
Scouts have loved Mitchell's live arm since his high school days in Reidsville, N.C. As with any young hurler whose pitches tend to jump from his hand, his command has been inconsistent. His fastball resides in the 93-94 mph range and displays outstanding late tailing action. His overhand curveball is considered to be one of the best in the Yankees' organization, while his changeup has made impressive strides thus far in 2012.
"The key for me is keeping a good rhythm and smoothing out my delivery," Mitchell said. "I need to keep the same arm slot and same release with every pitch. It all gets down to consistency and having the ability to repeat my mechanics. I feel like the command of all three of my pitches has gotten better progressively. My changeup is coming along. That was my main goal coming into the season, to improve the consistency of my changeup."
Mitchell grew up wanting to play professional baseball. Scouts loved his potential in high school but were concerned about his strong commitment to pitch for the University of North Carolina. As a result, he fell to the Yankees in the 16th round and wound up signing for a reported bonus of $800,000.
"It was a last-day decision for me," Mitchell said. "I didn't sign until the deadline, and I was packed and ready to go to school. The Yankees came through with what I wanted, which made my decision a lot easier to make."
He made his debut in the Gulf Coast League in 2010 and went 2-1 with a 3.67 ERA in 10 outings while battling a mild abdominal strain. Mitchell made one start in the New York-Penn League that year and returned to Staten Island in 2011, where he posted a 1-3 mark with a 4.09 ERA in 14 starts.
Making the jump to the SAL this season, he opened the slate impressively by limiting Rome to one hit over six shutout innings on April 8. Six walks in his second start, also against Rome, limited him to two frames, but he found his rhythm late in the month and maintained it in May. As a result, Mitchell has allowed only 42 hits in 53 innings with 57 strikeouts, although he has issued 30 walks and thrown six wild pitches. Nevertheless, he earned a spot on the Southern Division's All-Star roster and is making the type of progress he envisioned heading into the current campaign.
"I'm just trying to take it one day at a time and one start at a time," Mitchell said. "I'm just trying to replicate good outings and learn from ones that aren't as good. My goal is to throw at least six or seven innings every time they give me the ball. If I can do that, I'll be heading in the right direction."
Derby contestants announced: The SAL announced the participants for the league's Home Run Derby, which will begin Monday, June 18, at 11 a.m. on the flight deck of the USS Yorktown in Charleston Harbor and continue a day later prior to the circuit's All-Star Game at Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park. The contestants for the Northern Division include Matthew Skole (Hagerstown), Mark Haddow (Kannapolis), Rangel Ravelo (Kannapolis), Alen Hanson (West Virginia) and Gregory Polanco (West Virginia), while the Southern Division will be represented by Tyler Austin (Charleston), Harold Riggins (Asheville), Will Swanner (Asheville), Travis Taijeron (Savannah) and Zachary Johnson (Lexington).
Pennant fever: What looked to be a runaway for the Northern Division's first-half flag by Greensboro has become a two-team race with the emergence of Hagerstown. The Suns entered Wednesday's games having won nine of their last 10 outings to pull within 1 1/2 games of the first-place Grasshoppers. The Suns are an impressive 23-9 at home this season. In the Southern Division, Asheville's magic number stood at one prior to games on June 13.
Change of scenery, change of fortune: Lexington's Mike Kvasnicka spent April and May behind the plate and serving occasionally as the designated hitter for the Legends. He entered June with a .179 batting average before playing six of his first eight contests of the new month in right field. In those eight outings, he is hitting .355/.412/.742 and went deep twice at Greensboro on June 10 before hitting another home run versus West Virginia a day later.