Back in early August of 2019 I had the opportunity to make the 86 mile, 1 hour and 30 minute trek down to Charlotte Sports Park-Home of the Tampa Bay Rays Class-A Affiliate at the time, the Port Charlotte Stone Crabs-to see the #1 Prospect in all of MiLB, Wander Franco, take the field. His opponents that day were the Bradenton Marauders, so the reason for this journey was obviously two-fold.
At the time the Marauders had seven of the Pirates Top 30 Prospects according to MLB Pipeline, including #5, Cal Mitchell, who came in right behind fellow outfielder Travis Swaggerty for the highest ranked at their position. A lefty with raw power, much like his teammate, Mitchell had been drafted in the 2nd Round (50th Overall) of the 2017 MLB June Amateur Draft out of baseball powerhouse Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego, California. The Broncos have been a staple in the top 50 of high school teams in the entire United States; producing current MLB players, such as Cole Hamels of the Atlanta Braves and former Pirate, Trevor Williams.
Immediately following his selection, Mitchell found himself with the GCL-now FCL-Pirates in the Rookie Level of the Minor Leagues. In 43 games and across 185 plate appearances the 18 year old hit .245 with 2 HRs and 20 RBIs; which is honestly not too shabby for a kid right out of high school. Then after a full off-season to prepare, he came into his own for the Pirates Low A Affiliate at the time, the West Virginia Power of the South Atlantic League; earning a spot on the SAL All-Star Team and really beginning to show off the bat that scouts saw from in his high school days. On the season Cal slashed .280/.344/.427 with 10 HRs and a total of 42 extra base hits.
This level of play left the Pirates with a pretty easy decision coming into 2019, by promoting Mitchell to the High A Bradenton Marauder of the Florida State League, where first saw him play . Luckily for Mitchell the power he displayed during his time in West Virginia stuck around as hit 15 HRs in the pitcher friendly league. Unfortunately he saw his average drop down to .251 as he found himself slumping in the middle and end of the season; only hitting .184 for the month of June, and .205 in August.
Due to these offensive struggles, and only turning 21 years old a few weeks before the start of the season, I saw the most likely scenario being a repeat in Bradenton; at least to start the year. However, as we know now, the Pirates never had to make this choice with the MiLB shutdown, but we’re ultimately faced with a similar predicament for 2021; relying mostly on his Fall Instructional League and shortened Spring Training performances.
Eventually, the determination was made to assign Mitchell to the Double-A Altoona Curve to resume his professional career within the Pirates Farm System; and based on his stats the were correct in their assessment of his potential to perform well in the backdrop of the roller coaster at PNG Field. On the season thus far he is slashing .283/.334/.452 with 12 homers and a 112 wRC+, which is right in line with his career average; along with improvements in field, as his Future Value now sits at 50.
Based on this performance and potential, lack of competition at AAA outside of his old teammate, the currently injured Swaggerty, and a longer than expected absence of fellow top prospect Canaan Smith-Njigba, it would be hard to see Mitchell not getting the nod to Indy to begin 2022; with a PNC promotion eventually on its way.