Rancho Bernardo (San Diego) outfielder Calvin Mitchell came into the season as a sure-fire first-round draft prospect after a stellar off-season.
He led his team, the Brewers, to an unbeaten record in the Area Code Games in Long Beach. He showed off his left-handed power while finishing second in the home-run derby at the Perfect Game All-American Classic in San Diego. He helped Team USA’s U18 squad win the 2016 COPABE Pan American “AAA” Championships. He was named to the American Family Insurance ALL-USA preseason team.
Then he came back to Rancho Bernardo and reality hit. In a five-game stretch in late March and early April, the senior went 0-for-22.
“I think at the beginning of the season, I was struggling to adjust to the different style of pitching I was seeing,” Mitchell said. “I think I turned it around the last couple of weeks. It took me about 10 games to find a good rhythm and I think I have it. We’re a playoff team and I’m looking to get a championship.”
On April 12, just as Rancho Bernardo’s late-season push was beginning, Mitchell started heating up. Over the past 12 games, he’s hit .513, with eight homers and 23 RBI.
“He’s been pretty hot the last few weeks,” Rancho Bernardo coach Sammy Blalock said. “He’s starting to relax and play well.”
Rancho Bernardo is the 26-3 and the No. 13 team in the Super 25 baseball rankings, so Blalock said Mitchell needed to realize he didn’t have to carry the team.
“We have a good team and good hitters around him,” Blalock said. “The two guys behind him are hitting home runs too. He’s finally starting to relax and get back into being one of our guys, a teammate that comes to help our team win. Sometimes the kids who go off and do stuff, a lot of people have high expectations. Then they come back and people think, ‘Oh, he played on the USA Team, he played internationally. He should get a hit every time.’ The expectations that are put on him are hard. The first time he came back in a winter league game, he went 0-for-3 and struck out three times against a lousy pitcher. This is a game of failure and it will eat you up if you allow it.”
Blalock said Mitchell’s adjustment has been about regaining confidence.
“Any kid to be successful, they have to be confident and feel good about themselves,” Blalock said. “Mechanically, that’s not his problem. He’ll get jumpy now and then, like any hitter, but I’ve watched his swing through the years and it’s not much different than it ever was. Those other things, the confidence you have when you step in the box, the pressures that are there, they can get in the way of your plan. The swing has always been there. His bat travels through the zone very well.”
Mitchell said he had to remind himself what his strengths were.
“It is about confidence,” Mitchell said. “If I’m in a slump, I try to think about what I do well and who I am as a hitter..”
In the outfield, he’s become more confident as well.
“I think this year, my jumps in the outfield have gotten a lot better,” Mitchell said. “I’m taking better lines and tracking the ball better than what I did last year.”
Blalock has more than 900 wins in his 42 years as a high school baseball coach and has had 24 of his players at Rancho Bernardo get drafted, nine of them in the first round, including current Texas Rangers pitcher Cole Hamels. He knows what a future Major Leaguer should look like and Mitchell is turning that corner.
“He used to be pretty bad in his judgment and knowledge of the game but now he’s getting better and better,” Blalock said. “I’ve seen him do some advanced things of late. Shifting down the gear on a ball in the outfield, so he’s timing it rounding second the same time the fielder is fielding the ball, so if the (fielder) fumbles the ball, (Mitchell) doesn’t have to stop and go again. That kind of thing. Reading dirt balls and getting the proper jump. And his throwing arm has gotten better and his defense has gotten better.”
Mitchell got into baseball early because his father was a pitcher at Fresno State.
“He put a bat in my hand when I was four,” Mitchell said. “I messed around basketball, soccer and other things, but as soon as I got to high school, I knew what I wanted to do.”