When Kevonte Mitchell was drafted in 2014, many people scoured the internet to find some baseball related video. All that initially came up on YouTube were images of the 6’4″ and 195 pound prospect dunking on, over, and through people. But even in those first instances, one could clearly see what a great athlete the Cubs had selected with their thirteenth pick in the draft. The question soon became how that athleticism could translate over to baseball.
When Mitchell showed up to rookie league ball in 2014, he shifted his playing position from third base to the outfield. At the plate, he hit .294 in 39 games. That small sample size made it look like the Cubs had gotten a steal. While he did not hit any home runs, many people thought that power would soon come in time.
Entering 2015, Mitchell had entered a couple top prospect lists for the Cubs system. Baseball America placed him at number 27 and he cracked MLB Pipeline’s list at number 30. Everyone was set for him to be the breakout player of the year at Eugene. It did not happen, however, not even close. In fact, Mitchell spent two years at Eugene.
In his first year at Eugene, Mitchell was not selective and swung at many pitches out of the zone. It looked like he was flailing away most days. I don’t know if he was trying to hit for power, but it looked like he was trying to drive every pitch over PK Park’s left-field wall. His batting average never crossed the Mendoza line, and ended up at .169.
In 2016, things were a little better. He appeared to be a little more selective, and his batting average (.243) and on-base percentage (.318) reflected that selectivity. In the field, he could go track down a baseball, but they were not the most judicious routes. As the year wore on, Mitchell seemed to improve every month. His monthly batting average splits for June, July, and August were .138, .238, and .295. It appeared as if he was ready to head to the Midwest.
Now, in 2017, Mitchell looks to have matured both physically and mentally. Beginning in mid-April, Mitchell put up a nice ten game run, hitting .375 with two home runs. For a stretch, Mitchell was one of the hottest hitters in the entire Cubs system.
He was selective, looked for pitches in zones, and was not afraid to go the other way as evidenced in this video.
For April, he hit .257 with three HRs, while posting an OBP of .295.
On the air, Pritchett gets pretty enthusiastic when talking about Mitchell’s batting practices. The potential for power Mitchell displays before the game is now starting to happen in the game. Last week in Fort Wayne Indiana, Mitchell hit a ball estimated to have traveled 501 feet over an apartment building and beyond the left-field wall. He later hit a second home run off the same apartment building that could’ve traveled 400+ feet.
In conversations with South Bend Cubs photographer Rikk Carlson, sometimes players just mature later than others. Sometimes it’s mentally, sometimes it’s physically, and sometimes it’s both. For Mitchell, I think that is what we are seeing this year. Yes, he is more selective. Yes, he has a much better idea of what he wants to do with the plate. And yes, he appears to be looking for a ball in a certain zone. Then, sometimes, he screws himself into the ground swinging with all his might.
I can see Mitchell has improved greatly this year, and his athleticism will only help that in the future. However, Kevonte is still a work in progress.
On Friday night, South Bend played in an 18 inning affair that South Bend would finish on Saturday night. When I began writing this article, Mitchell was 0-for-8 with four strikeouts. As with all prospects, he is going to have his ups and he’s going to have his downs. Hopefully, by being more selective and having a better approach while looking for a ball in a certain zone, those downs will not be as frequent.
In 2015, Baseball America’s John Manuel once compared him to Matt Kemp. Kevonte has a very long way to go to reach that level, but the very early returns in 2017 are encouraging.
Lead Photo by Rikk Carlson—South Bend Cubs