Brewers' Mitchell ready to be pushed by fellow first-rounder Frelick

March 6th, 2022

PHOENIX -- First-round pick, meet first-round pick.

The arrival of 2020 first-round Draft pick Garrett Mitchell to the Brewers’ Minor League Spring Training camp on Sunday meant the first face-to-face introduction between Mitchell and '21 first-round pick Sal Frelick. The two have similar scouting reports: left-handed hitter, center fielder, high energy, high baseball IQ. Now it’s a race to Milwaukee.

“I think some people think in pro ball everyone is after you, right?” Mitchell said. “And obviously, we play the same position and we’re similar in what we do. But that’s what makes it fun. I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge or having to go up against someone. That’s fun. And you know it just as well as I do, that’s so out of my control, whether I get called up or someone else does. So for me, that’s like the least of my worries.

“I’m not looking at it like, ‘I hope he does really, really bad and I do really good.’ It’s baseball. There’s going to be highs and lows. Things are going to happen. I think the group that we have now, just imagine us in a couple of years. I’m excited. I like playing with people like that.”

Over the last calendar year, Mitchell -- rated by MLB Pipeline as the Brewers' top prospect (Frelick is No. 2) -- has experienced a wider gap of highs and lows than virtually any player in the organization. He starred for the Brewers in his first big league Spring Training, dominated at High-A Wisconsin and married the love of his life. He also batted .186 at Double-A Biloxi, knocked down by back-to-back bouts of strep throat that were so serious, Mitchell needed his tonsils removed during the offseason.

Mitchell wasn’t making excuses when he reported for duty at spring camp.

“It didn’t end the way I wanted it to,” Mitchell said. “But I feel really, really good going into this year.”

The highs were plentiful. The 20th overall pick in the shortened 2020 Draft, Mitchell earned a spot in big league camp in ’21 and made the most of it, hitting .367 with a .973 OPS in 22 Cactus League games while putting his full skill set -- contact, speed, defense -- on display.

Mitchell carried that success to Wisconsin, where he missed a few early weeks with a muscle strain behind his right knee but returned to hit .359 with a 1.128 OPS through 120 plate appearances, culminating with a career day on July 4 when he homered twice, tallied four hits and drove in six runs. He was off to Biloxi.

That’s when Mitchell's season turned south. Already faced with the challenges of more advanced pitching and adapting his routine to a new living situation -- Mitchell, a Type 1 diabetic, must be particularly vigilant about his habits in order to manage his blood sugar -- he began to battle a series of illnesses unrelated to diabetes and COVID-19.

It started with a stomach bug, followed by strep throat. Mitchell completed a course of antibiotics and felt better, only to suffer a second bout of strep throat beginning the day after his course of medication ended.

This one, he said, was twice as severe as the first.

All told, Mitchell had a .555 OPS in 148 plate appearances at Biloxi. Assignments won’t be set for weeks, but it would not be a surprise to see Mitchell return there to begin the ’21 season on April 8. He worked on a field Sunday with Double-A manager Mike Guerrero in an outfield group that included Frelick, Joey Wiemer and Joe Gray Jr.

“I don’t like playing bad. I’m my worst critic,” Mitchell said. “So having to go through that, it was hard. The part that frustrated me most was that when I was on the field and starting to be a little bit more consistent at Double-A, that’s when it started to fall apart, and I started getting sick.

“I feel like for me, especially being in a new situation in pro ball, my first full year, I give myself the benefit of the doubt. I’m learning how my body was feeling during a full season, and how to be as consistent as possible. Coming into year two, it makes me feel confident just because I’ve been down this road before. I’ve had those ups and downs. Going into this year, it’s a new slate. It’s time to look forward.”

Mitchell has a partner with whom to look forward. In December, he married professional softball player Haley Cruse. She is with him in Phoenix, preparing for her own season with the Viera, Fla.-based USSSA Pride, a team in the Women's Professional Fastpitch League. The two are similar players -- speedy, top-of-the-order types -- who spend a lot of their downtime talking hitting.

Mitchell’s chief priority for 2021 is staying on the field.

“I don’t think it’s a baseball thing. I’ve shown I can play baseball at a high level, and I know I can,” Mitchell said. “I think being able to stay confident and stay on the field is definitely going to be the goal for this year. If I can do that, the rest will take care of itself.”