Mitchell vies for starting OF job after injury-shortened 2023

March 9th, 2024

PHOENIX — The tattoo on 's left forearm reads simply: Keep the Faith.

A positive mindset helped Mitchell get through an injury-compromised 2023 season, and he is prepared to pick up where he left off last April as the Brewers sort through their possible outfield combinations this spring.

“Just taking it each day, one day at a time,” said Mitchell, who had two hits Friday and has hit leadoff in his last two Cactus League games.

“Going through my process every day. I’m happy with how the games have gone so far. Each game, there has been some progression building off the last one. Obviously, not all of it is perfect. Some of it is not so good. But it is just building each day one day at a time. I’m happy where we’re at right now.”

Mitchell was the Brewers’ Opening Day center fielder a year ago, and he looked the part -- three homers, six RBIs, one stolen base, a .772 OPS in 16 games -- before a torn labrum in his left shoulder forced him onto the injured list for five months.

The brevity of his stint in the Majors did not change Mitchell’s perspective, however.

“I felt like I am definitely good enough to be there,” he said, “as you should feel. I felt really confident. And where I started at the beginning of last year, it was great.

“When the injury came, it was just … you have to roll with the punches. There is not much you can do with something like that. It was a freak accident. I’m coming in this year more hungry than I was before and I’m ready to compete.”

Competition for the four or five outfield spots increased when the Brewers signed rookie Jackson Chourio to an eight-year, $82 million contract in December, before Chourio had appeared in a Major League game.

Christian Yelich is locked into left field. Chourio and Mitchell are top contenders for the other starting spots, though Sal Frelick, Joey Wiemer and Blake Perkins are in the mix. Frelick, Weimer and Perkins all made at least 40 starts in the big leagues a year ago.

Chourio has been primarily a center fielder since signing with the Brewers in 2021. Mitchell has played center in his two short stays in the Majors, although he played 16 games in right field at Double-A Biloxi and Triple-A Nashville in 2022.

“I don’t see it as a competition,” Mitchell said of Chourio. “I’m excited to get the opportunity to play with him. He’s doing what he’s doing, and I‘m happy for him. He’s earned everything that he has gotten.

“When you look at guys like that, he got paid, that’s awesome. You should be happy about that, and knowing the type of player that he can be, I feel like I hear everyone say he has the potential to be an [Ronald] Acuña or Julio [Rodríguez]-type player.”

A left-handed hitter, Mitchell could provide balance to a lineup that skews right, with Yelich and second baseman Brice Turang the only lefty-hitting projected starters in a group that has power on the right side in William Contreras, Rhys Hoskins and Willy Adames.

Mitchell called his three-homer 2023 April “a step in the right direction. That’s obviously where I am trying to go.

“I’m not solely focused on that in particular. I think that just happens based on mistakes. Now my goal is to go out there and make loud and hard contact. Most of camp has been that, so I’m very happy where we are going into the season.”

Mitchell’s shoulder injury came on a fluke-ish play -- and one that has since been legislated out of the game.

Mitchell was sliding into third base in the 10th inning of a 6-5, 11-inning loss at Seattle on April 18 as he maneuvered his body while attempting to avoid third baseman Eugenio Suárez, who was in the baseline without the ball.

“If you don’t have the baseball you can’t block the bag,” he said. “It’s interesting to think that, if that was this year, maybe it would have been a little different. But now it’s protecting players, not having to manipulate your body to avoid a tag. That will be very friendly to those who could possibly get hurt in a situation like that.

“That was a tough injury. I’m happy to be back out there every day.”