It is probable that – for the second year in a row – a Bruin will hear his name called in the first round.
UCLA baseball’s Garrett Mitchell will likely enter the 2020 MLB Draft in June as a consensus top-25 prospect. The junior center fielder is looking to follow in the footsteps of one of his former teammates, first baseman Michael Toglia, who was selected 23rd overall by the Colorado Rockies in the first round of the 2019 draft.
In the shortened 2020 season, Mitchell started and batted leadoff in all 15 of the Bruins’ games. He was third on the team in both on-base and slugging percentage – posting figures of .425 and .484, respectively – and led UCLA in doubles and stolen bases.
A top prospect out of Orange Lutheran High School, Mitchell fell to the 14th round in the 2017 MLB Draft because of contract demands, despite his strong reputation as a five-tool player. He is currently ranked sixth on the MLB.com Top Draft Prospects List, and has been slotted to go as high as sixth to as low as 21st overall in notable mock drafts.
Coach John Savage has routinely praised Mitchell for being a well-rounded, five-tool player, something that could set him up for an intriguing professional career. Mitchell is considered the best player in the second tier of prospects, and the combination of his elite speed, ability to hit to all fields and play solid defense will likely lead to his name being called early on June 10.
On the 20-80 scale used to grade baseball prospects, Mitchell earned a 70 in the Run category from MLB.com, and is one of only two players in the top 20 who has been graded better than 55. Mitchell has shown off his speed as a Bruin, stealing 28 bags in the blue and gold, including 18 a year ago, which was good for fourth in the Pac-12.
Of all of his tools, speed is his most consistent and adaptable to the pros. It isn’t too often that a 6-foot-3, 215-pound outfielder can lead the nation in triples, but Mitchell did just that in 2019 with 12 three-baggers.
Mitchell also uses his plus-speed in the outfield, roaming the alleyways at Jackie Robinson Stadium and receiving consistent acclaim from Savage about his range. He only earned a 50 for his Field rating from MLB, but he projects as an above-average defense center fielder at the next level.
A big part of Mitchell’s defensive game is the strength of his arm, for which he earned a 60 rating – the best among nonpitcher and noncatcher prospects in the top 50.
The combination of his speed and his throwing ability make Mitchell a highly projectable everyday center fielder at the big league level, and his extensive experience in right field doesn’t hurt either. He made only three errors in his time in Westwood and collected two outfield assists as well.
However, being an above-average defender in center field requires the ability to stay healthy, and because of potential concerns surrounding his Type 1 diabetes, The Athletic’s Keith Law has Mitchell falling out of the top 20.
Perhaps his best tool outside of his speed is his bat, for which he earned another 60 from MLB.com. Mitchell hit well over .300 in his sophomore and junior seasons and will leave UCLA with a career .327 mark. In his three years, Mitchell has shown an ability to have gap-to-gap power, notching 24 doubles, 15 triples and six home runs.
Mitchell has the ability to work opposing pitchers, forcing them to throw him strikes to get him out – a skill he put to good work in 2020. This season, Mitchell displayed his keen eye, as he earned six free passes plus two intentional walks in 75 plate appearances.
Throughout his UCLA career, Mitchell considerably cut down his strikeout numbers, while raising his walk rates. In his freshman season, he played in 44 games and struck out in 22.6% of his plate appearances, while only walking in 6.2%.
A year later, the then-sophomore struck out in a much more respectable 13.9% of his plate appearances and bumped his walk rate up to 9.8%. In the small sample size that is the 2020 campaign, Mitchell only struck out three times, or 4.0% of his trips to the plate and walked 10.7% of the time.
With the increasing prevalence of strikeouts in today’s game, his ability to improve his approach and swing at fewer bad pitches as he gained experience is surely a hopeful sign for his success facing better competition in professional ball.
Mitchell only homered once every 79.5 at-bats as a Bruin, but he does have raw power in his repertoire.
Despite hitting zero round-trippers in the first 15 games of 2020, most scouts are confident the power he shows off in batting practice – and the power he displayed in high school – will be able to translate in the lower levels of professional baseball, and eventually up to the majors. This should be encouraging for Mitchell, who only earned a 50 grade for his power, as teams will be able to look past his modest power numbers in college ball, believing that he can develop into a more feared hitter.
Player Comparisons: Jason Heyward, A.J. Pollock
When Jason Heyward broke into the MLB with the Atlanta Braves in 2010 and homered in his first career at-bat, it looked as though he might have a storied career ahead of him. While the now-Chicago Cubs outfielder never became the perennial All-Star people expected him to be, he has turned his tools and size into some solid seasons and big-time contracts, and Mitchell has a lot in common with him.
Mitchell is 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds. Heyward stands at 6-foot-5 and weighs 240 pounds. Two inches and 25 pounds – some of which will inevitably be made up when Mitchell reaches a big league training routine – is not a vast difference, especially because of the similarities in their game.
In his four best seasons by fWAR, Heyward played in an average of 150.75 games, hitting 17.25 home runs, stealing 18.75 bases and saving 19.25 runs on defense. The almost 20 defensive runs saved is elite and probably a stretch for Mitchell, but he could conceivably find himself in the 20-20 club, while also offering plus-defense.
For Heyward, the problem has been staying consistent and healthy. If Mitchell is able to crack the league and get consistent playing time, he should be able to put together campaigns similar to the prime years of Heyward – a former mid-first-round pick.
Similarly to Heyward, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder A.J. Pollock has had a couple impressive seasons sprinkled into his otherwise slightly above average career. The 6-foot-1, 212 pound, former mid-first-round pick out of Notre Dame put together his best season in 2015 when he hit 20 long balls, stole 39 bags and tallied 10 defensive runs saved as the Arizona Diamondbacks’ everyday center fielder.
In the seasons since, Pollock has not been able to replicate his production from that 6.8 fWAR year – in part due to injury – but has still been a serviceable outfielder. Even if Mitchell can’t meet his ceiling of being a consistent 20-20 player with occasional All-Star appearances, he should be a solid everyday outfielder, or great fourth outfielder, coming off the bench to pinch hit, run or play defense.
Mitchell possesses above-average skills in all five tools – hitting, hitting for power, running, fielding and throwing. Even though he wasn’t able to complete his important junior season and let scouts see him and his team in his collegiate prime, Mitchell is likely to be off the board early in the shortened MLB Draft.