CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The word on the West Virginia Power entering the 2018 season was it would be a club loaded on talent and full of potential up and down the roster.
Outfielder Calvin Mitchell was a big reason for the preseason optimism, and he has delivered so far in the young season for the Power.
Mitchell, a second round pick by the Pirates in 2017, has arguably been West Virginia’s best player through the first two weeks of the South Atlantic League season. Entering play Thursday, Mitchell led the Power with a .306 batting average, a slugging percentage of .551, and is among the team leaders with a .375 on-base percentage.
When Pirates Prospects caught up with Mitchell this spring, he said he had been working on a few things to get better in the batter’s box — specifically pointing his shoulder at the pitcher, keeping eye contact with the mound and being better at recognizing pitches.
So far, so good for the 19-year old from San Diego.
“(I’ve been working) on those things early in the season with my hitting coach, Chris Peterson, and (Power manager) Wyatt (Toregas),” Mitchell said. “I’ve been able to implement those in the game it’s showing some success.”
In 43 games with the GCL Pirates lasts season, Mitchell slashed .245/.351/.352 with two home runs and 20 runs batted in. He struck out 35 times in 159 at-bats while taking 24 walks. The average dipped and the strikeout number grew in the second half of 2017. The offseason and spring adjustments appear to be working so far in his first full season of professional baseball.
“I’ve just been really putting a lot of hard work into my work days and in my batting practice making sure I’m ready for the game,” Mitchell said. “Just letting it all play. (We’ve been working on) a lot of decision-making at the plate, knowing what pitches to swing at and when and really trying to take advantage of any mistakes.”
He showed off some of those decision-making skills at the plate Thursday as the Power opened a home stand against the visiting Asheville Tourists. Mitchell crushed a three-run home run, his third of the season, to right field on a mistake pitch by Asheville starter Garrett Schilling in the third inning, going for 2 for 4 as West Virginia beat the Tourists 3-0.
“He seems to be really in control of his at-bats and he’s forcing pitchers to come to him,” Power manager Wyatt Toregas said. “Tonight he took the 1-0 changeup and hits the 2-0 breaking ball. I really believe down deep that their pitcher thought he would swing at the 1-0 changeup and take the 2-0 curveball, and Cal was all over it. He was looking for a pitch in the zone and when he got it he was ready to hit it. He kept it really simple and he executed.”
Toregas said Mitchell’s demeanor plays a big part in his success.
“Southern Cal,” Toregas said. “He doesn’t do anything too fast. He’s kind of laid back and he has that So Cal kind of feel, and that’s a really good thing to have as a hitter. Nothing really every speeds up on him and I think his personality is perfect to be a really good hitter. He can just hit. You can tell he did a lot of work growing up. He just gets the barrel to the ball. He’s a very consistent guy, but he’s only 19 years old. Watch out for him in the future when he really figures it out.”
Toregas and Peterson have been working with Mitchell on his approach at the plate and it’s paying off. The goal, Toregas said, is to refine an already good eye and make him better at being more selective at the plate.
“We do a lot of training with him where we don’t throw him all strikes. We force him in his practice to take pitches. If he goes in there and every pitch goes right down the middle, what’s he really working on? So we’re trying to throw him the pitches in the zone we want him swinging at and pitches out of the zone we want him taking. It’s really just an extension of his game. He’s got a really good eye and he doesn’t swing at a whole lot of bad pitches. The ones that he does swing at have been set up well or they’re just really well executed pitches that look like another pitch.”
Mitchell and the Power continue their four-game series against Asheville, a Rockies affiliate, on Friday at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston.