CHICAGO -- The 2013 season stands as a defining one for White Sox outfield prospect Jared Mitchell.
Gone are the pain and impediments from a tendon tear in his left ankle during a 2010 Cactus League game in Tempe, Ariz. Those problems cost Mitchell the entire 2010 season and affected him throughout 2011.
The team's top pick and 23rd overall in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Mitchell enjoyed a healthy 2012, with 455 at-bats. While the results weren't perfect for the 24-year-old left-handed hitter, who split time between baseball and football at LSU, the experience and repetition were necessary for long-term success.
As a recent addition to the 40-man roster, Mitchell's time to shine figures to begin with Triple-A Charlotte, with hopes for a White Sox appearance in the not-too-distant future. But those who have watched Mitchell's gradual progress caution against 2013 becoming a make-or-break effort for the outfielder's development.
"Each of the last three years we've said, 'This is a big year for Jared Mitchell,'" said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, when asked about placing extra importance on the 2013 season for Mitchell. "First, show that he can get away from the football approach and get 500 plate appearances at the Minor League level.
"Then [it was] to get through the year healthy, and now it's time to take that next step. When you're viewed as one of the organization's top prospects, they're all big years, and there is always progress to make until you get to the big leagues."
Mitchell certainly possesses the raw talent of a Major Leaguer.
His speed was on display at the early stages of last Spring Training, when Mitchell hit a single up the middle in Cactus League action that struck the second base bag, rolled slowly into center and easily was stretched into a double. Using that speed has become a greater focus for Mitchell, in terms of getting out of the batter's box faster and trying to take the extra base, which showed in 13 triples and 21 stolen bases over stops with Double-A Birmingham and Charlotte last season.
Mitchell's extra-base power doesn't fall into the traditional leadoff hitter category, and he's a solid outfielder with the capabilities to play center, left and right at above-average range.
"He's a special ballplayer, if everything clicks," White Sox director of player development Nick Capra said.
"I'm just building on what I did already," Mitchell told MLB.com during a recent phone interview. "I'm trying to continue improving."
Mitchell's game is not yet a finished product. He holds the potential to move well past his career .237 Minor League average and strikeouts remain an issue, with 402 over 1,047 at-bats in three professional seasons.
That strikeout total reached 179 in 2012, after Mitchell fanned 183 times in 2011. But a slight tweak in his approach at the plate -- and the simple realization of getting in a better physical and mental position to hit with each pitch -- has the White Sox and Mitchell excited that the strikeouts will drop and the average will rise.
"We brought him to the instructional league, and we are really encouraged offensively," Capra said. "In terms of being in a good position to hit, he's better than he ever has been since we've had him. Hopefully, we see the same thing when he comes back to Spring Training."
"It's all about repetition," Mitchell said. "That's part of the game, that repetition. The more I learn and work at it, the better I'll be. Just trying to learn what I'm doing, and being a little better before I get to two strikes."
Top outfield prospects are plentiful throughout a White Sox system that doesn't get much respect for having potential Major League players of impact. Trayce Thompson (No. 1 on MLB.com's White Sox prospect list), Keenyn Walker (No. 5) and Courtney Hawkins (No. 2) join Mitchell (No. 9), and actually could pass him if Mitchell hits a developmental roadblock.
Mitchell said good chemistry exists between all four of these players, and Mitchell enjoys the push toward the big leagues they provide each other. The ultimate goal has the quartet producing together for Hahn and manager Robin Ventura.
Depending on the roster makeup and his performance, Mitchell could make Major League contributions in 2013. It's not a concern for Mitchell, who isn't focused upon things he can't control while refining his game without worrying about his health.
"Those expectations I put on myself are the toughest and most important, so I don't really worry about what anyone else says," Mitchell said. "That's the one I really worry about at the end of the day: if I can look at myself and be happy. How can I give my best effort, help the team I'm with and make an impression [on the big league staff] and make their decision tough. That's what I want to be about."
"Hopefully, a year from now we'll be sitting here and saying after the fantastic year in Triple-A, 'This is the year he shows he belongs in Chicago as an everyday outfielder,'" Hahn said. "He has goals to accomplish and we have a lot of confidence in him."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin.