By STEVE KRAH
Major League Baseball’s minor leagues are about development.
Mitchell, who celebrated his 22nd birthday Saturday, Aug. 12 at Four Winds Field by going 2-of-5 at the plate with a double, two runs batted in and one run scored, originally committed to play at Southeast Missouri State University.
When the baseball and basketball standout and honor roll student at Kennett (Mo.) High School was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 13th round of the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Mitchell opted not to put off his pro development.
“The Cubs made an offer that I couldn’t refuse,” says Mitchell. “Coming out of high school and learning from professionals right away, I felt I needed that. I wanted to learn.”
Kevonte’s dad did not play baseball. His mom played a little softball.
Growing up in the Bootheel region of Missouri, the son of Kevin and Darlene Mitchell and younger brother of Brianne took to the diamond at an early age.
“I found out I was kind of good at it so I just kept playing it when I was younger and here I am today,” says Mitchell.
He looks back on his days as a newly-minted pro and remembers that as another learning opportunity.
“I had to grow up really quickly, I’ll tell you that,” says Mitchell. “I’ll never forget my first night out in Arizona. I’d never been that far from home.”
An 18-year-old Kevonte gave himself a pep talk.
“There’s no turning back now,” says Mitchell. “I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do and play the game that I love.”
After stints with the rookie-level Arizona Cubs in 2014 and 2015 and Single-A short-season Eugene Emeralds in 2015 and 2016, Mitchell has spent the whole 2017 season with South Bend in the Low Class-A Midwest League. The Cubs are 61-56 overall; 22-26 in the second half.
Using his swiftness, Mitchell has played mostly right or left field and been a threat to steal or base or go first-to-third. He was a third baseman and shortstop in high school.
“My speed is a big factor to my game,” says Mitchell. “As an outfielder, I’ve learned about routes and how to get to the ball quicker. I still need help with that.
“I’ll play anywhere (manager Jimmy Gonzalez and the Cubs) need me. I’ll be ready to go out there.”
Where trusting the process comes in the most for the 6-foot-4, 185-pounder is in the right-handed batter’s box.
“I’ve made a lot of adjustments since the start of spring training,” says Mitchell, who came through action Saturday hitting .252 with 11 home runs, 53 RBI, 51 runs scored and 18 stolen bases (.270, 1, 8, 8 and 3 in the last 10 games). “I don’t consider myself a power guy. I have the potential to maybe be a power guy one day.
“I’m just trying to be a better hitter. I’m focusing on going the other way, knowing what the pitcher is doing with runners on base. With two strikes, I try to shorten up (my swing) and see the ball.”
Mitchell saw the basketball go through the net on a regular basis during his time with the Kennett Indians. He poured in 1,585 career points. He was all-state as a senior and holds the school record for rebounds.
“I played whatever the coach needed — 1 through 4,” says Mitchell. “Sometimes I’d bring the ball down (the court). Sometimes I’d be posting up.”
The Cubs don’t want Mitchell getting hurt by playing full-out hoops.
“I’ll shoot a couple shots here and there,” says Mitchell.
But mostly he trusts the process while getting better on the diamond.
Kevonte Mitchell, a South Bend Cubs outfielder, turned 22 Saturday, Aug. 12. He is in his fourth professional baseball season. (South Bend Cubs Photo)