In what has been one of the most boring MLB offseasons in recent memory, perhaps the highlight was the Padres’ acquisition of right-hander Bryan Mitchell from the New York Yankees. Sure, it was the equivalent of buying a prospect, as the Padres had to take on the contract of Chase Headley as a part of the trade, but Mitchell is a lot more intriguing than Headley or the Padres’ other main offseason acquisition, shortstop Freddy Galvis.
Drafted in the sixteenth round of the 2009 MLB Draft by the New York Yankees, the 26-year-old righty appears poised for his first significant taste of big league action in 2018. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a look at how Mitchell found his way to San Diego. Despite being drafted in 2009, Mitchell did not make his first professional appearance with the Yankees until 2010. Mitchell spent the majority of that season in rookie ball, starting nine games and throwing just over 40 innings in total. Mitchell found some issues with command and control, but he did maintain an ERA in the 3.00s.
Mitchell followed with an entire season in short season ball in 2011 and then an entire season in Low-A in 2012. Between the two stops, Mitchell made 40 starts and threw just over 180 innings. His stats were similar for both years, as his walk rate once again ran a little too close to his strikeout rate. Mitchell also sported ERAs over four in both seasons. Mitchell spent most of 2013 in High-A, and although he did see some noticeable declines in his command and control issues, he still experienced an ERA over 5.00. Despite those struggles, Mitchell had a string of solid starts in Double-A to finish the season.
The 2014 season was a similar one for Mitchell, as he spent the beginning of the season in Double-A before moving to Triple-A and then all the way to the big leagues. Mitchell ended the season with 11 big league innings with a 2.45 ERA. However, Mitchell’s strikeout rate (15.9 percent) was lower than at any other time during his professional career. It’s important to note the small sample, but Mitchell was definitely getting hitters out with weak contact more than high strikeout rates.
After spending half of the 2015 season in Triple-A, Mitchell was called back up to New York in June. Mitchell ended up appearing in 20 games with the Yankees, mostly in a relief role. Mitchell saw an increase in his strikeout rate, but his 6.37 ERA definitely did not cut it. The 2016 season was mostly a wash for Mitchell, as a foot injury caused him to miss a majority of the season. He did start five games for the Yankees near the end of the season and found a good deal of success, with a 3.24 ERA, although his walk rate exceeded his strikeout rate for the first time in his career.
The 2017 season was a bit of an erratic one for Mitchell, as he bounced up and down between Triple-A and the majors a few times throughout the season. Despite finding some success as a starter back in Triple-A, with a 3.25 ERA and 2.18 FIP over 13 starts and 63 and two-thirds innings, Mitchell struggled in mostly a bullpen role with the Yankees. Mitchell threw 22 and two-thirds more big league innings in 2017, putting up a 5.79 ERA and 4.20 FIP. In sum, Mitchell has thrown 98 and a third big league innings with a 14.3 percent strikeout rate, a 9.8 percent walk rate, and 4.94 ERA. Even though Mitchell has pitched almost exclusively as a starter in the minor leagues, only nine of his 48 big league appearances have been as a starter.
2018 Projection and Long-Term Outlook
2018 Steamer Projection: 19 games started, 109 innings, 19.7% K-rate, 9.1% BB-rate, 4.14 ERA, 4.21 FIP, 1.4 fWAR
Going into 2018, it appears the Padres are very serious about Mitchell getting starts in the big league rotation. Although there are a lot of possibilities for the Padres’ rotation, Mitchell came at a hefty price (the $13 million the Padres absorbed in Chase Headley’s contract), so it figures he will see plenty of starts in 2018. Steamer actually likes Mitchell’s potential in 2018, as he would be on pace for between two and three fWAR over a full season of innings. He likely won’t throw that many innings, but the Padres could have something on their hands.
Mitchell has the profile of a pitcher who can find some big league success if he can work out the kinks. With a mid-90s fastball, the makings of a solid curveball, and an at least average slider, Mitchell has the potential, plus the upper minors track record, to be a solid big league starter for the Padres in 2018. With four years of team control remaining, Mitchell could be an important part of the Padres’ rebuild while the team transitions from full-on tanking to beginning to field a competitive team. Padres’ pitching coach Darren Balsley has done more with less, so it’s easy to see how he can impact Mitchell in 2018 and beyond. For the price of Headley’s contract, Mitchell should be worth the price, even if he doesn’t end up as a regular starting pitcher. But the Padres will give him every chance to start in 2018. Let’s see if he makes the most of that consistent opportunity, an opportunity he never got in New York.