GRAND CHUTE — Garrett Mitchell is getting used to waiting.
Mitchell, the Milwaukee Brewers' first-round selection in the 2020 Major League Baseball draft, spent four months waiting to see any kind of game action after the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic wiped out the minor league season. And after getting a handful of at-bats during Fall Instructional League games, had to wait a few more months before taking the field in spring training.
Once the big league season began, there was yet another wait before minor league camp opened and a whole month had passed before Mitchell finally made his professional debut last week with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.
Now, Mitchell is playing the waiting game again thanks to a muscle strain in his left leg that left him sidelined after playing all of two games, but the up-and-coming prospect is expected to return sometime this week.
"He's progressing well," Timber Rattlers manager Matt Erickson said. "If every thing goes right ... we'll get him moving (later this week) and hopefully, you'll see him (during the Timber Rattlers' series at Peoria this week."
Mitchell, 22, began the season as Milwaukee's top-rated minor league prospect after an eye-popping showing during spring training. Appearing in 22 games, he batted .367 with a .406 on-base percentage, .567 slugging percentage and .973 OPS; homered, drove in six runs and drew five walks against seven strikeouts.
"He's a talented kid," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "There’s no question he’s an incredibly talented young player, and there’s also no question he’s got a lot of work to do, a lot of things to get better at."
Putting up numbers like that only to head to the minor leagues would be understandably disappointing, no matter how unrealistic such an outcome is for someone in Mitchell's position. He insists, though, that wasn't the case and instead, he's using it as motivation during this next phase of his young career.
"Just because I had a good 30 at-bats I’m going to go and skip four levels and play in 'The Show,'" Mitchell said. "It was definitely a boost for me — especially after, really, a year of not playing but I try not to focus on that too much specifically just because that was a small portion versus going through the next 120 games and just trying to stay healthy and as consistent as possible."
Helping Mitchell get better is Erickson's job, and based on what he saw from the prospect during camp, it won't be a difficult process. As much as he impressed Milwaukee's staff with his on-field abilities, Mitchell's mental approach and willingness to learn were just as encouraging as anything he did with a bat or his glove.
"He soaks up information," Erickson said. "He is very intuitive and he knows the game, for sure, but he continues to ask questions about the professional game and he's and he's curious about the experiences that we've had and the knowledge that we can share."
The Brewers were enamored with Mitchell's variety of skills when they chose him out of UCLA with the 20th overall pick in last year's draft. An advanced offensive talent who batted .355 with nine RBIs as a junior before his season was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mitchell also displayed above-average speed (five stolen bases), which also played into his defensive abilities in centerfield.
Mitchell put all those tools on display during his brief Timber Rattlers debut. In his first professional at-bat, he reached on an infield hit, and after chasing down several fly balls to the outfield, closed out the game by teaming up with fellow 2020 draft pick Hayden Cantrelle to pick off a runner at second base.
The next day, Mitchell reached twice more — both on infield hits — while also stealing two bases.
"It's been a long time coming," Mitchell said. "I'm just trying to be as consistent as I possibly can, a guy who plays at 100 percent, all the time. You’ll see me flying around the field, trying to use my speed as much as I can. I just want to be a game-changer. At any point in the game you never know what’s the most important catch, but I hope that in those moments I can come in and do something for us as a team."
Early returns: 5 things we've learned about the Brewers over the first month of the season
Each and every year, president of baseball operations David Stearns and manager Craig Counsell are peppered with questions about a perceived surplus or logjam at one position or another and each and every time they're asked, both remind the intrepid reporters asking those questions that it is a long season, injuries happen and depth is a key to success for any team.
In the future, Stearns and Counsell can respond to those questions by referencing April 2021.
Since April 10, when second baseman Kolten Wong (above) went on the injured list with a strained oblique, the Brewers have put 10 players on the IL — including starting outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, both of their starting catchers and two starting pitchers.
As a result, all but one of the players on Milwaukee's 40-man roster have been used so far this season.
"We talk about depth all the time," Stearns said. "We didn't anticipate needing to go through this many layers of depth this early. It's given a number of guys some really great opportunities and through all of their credits, they've taken advantage of them."
STARTERS ARE REALLY, REALLY GOOD
Anyone who's watched the team this year already knows this, but Milwaukee's rotation has been so good so far that it's worth repeating. Prior to Sunday, when Alec Bettinger's MLB debut (above) turned into a nightmare with a five-run first inning, the Brewers' starters combined for a 2.57 ERA, second only to the San Francisco Giants in all of baseball. After Bettinger's 11-run performance, Milwaukee's rotation still owns a 3.18, the fifth-best mark in the NL and sixth in MLB.
"Every guy that's in this in this rotation is bringing something and it's fun to watch just from a pitching standpoint," closer Josh Hader said. "It's impressive to see how they attack these lineups, especially going around lineups three times in a row. I know as a starter that's not an easy thing to do and they make it look easy."
OFFENSE IS REALLY, REALLY BAD — BUT EFFECTIVE
On the other end of the spectrum, Milwaukee's offense is still a concern. The Brewers are last in the National League with a .217 batting average and .301 on-base percentage. Their 35 home runs are good for sixth in the NL and help boost their slugging percentage to .373 (11th/NL), while their .674 OPS ranks 13th.
Among qualified players (3.1 plate appearances per team games played), Avisail Garcia (above) is Milwaukee's leading hitter with a .222 average, just ahead of Travis Shaw, who's batting .220 but is among the league leaders in RBIs (21) and has a team-leading five home runs so far.
Still, the Brewers' bats have come through in big moments more often than not, and thanks to the pitchers' efforts, the offense hasn't had to put together too many big innings in order to dig out of a hole.
"We just keep doing it every night, finding ways to get it done," Shaw said. "Seems like however many runs we need, we score that exact amount every single night, whether it's one, whether it's five, six, whatever it is, we'll get it. We've been getting just enough to win."
THINGS AREN'T AS BAD AS THEY SEEM
Even with the injuries, the slumps, roster shuffles and their blow-up loss Sunday, the Brewers still woke up Monday atop the National League Central Division, a game up on second-place St. Louis and 3 1/2 ahead of the third-place Reds.
"You take three out of four from the Dodgers and you have to consider that a good series, for sure," Counsell said. "Guys continue to step up. It's going to take more than 26 (players) — I think we've made that pretty clear — and I think we're in that mode right now. It's a good place to be. We continue to pitch very well and I think that's going to continue to serve us well."
THIS TEAM COULD BE FOR REAL
No doubt, there is still way too much baseball left. A lot can happen between now and September and there's plenty of teams in franchise history that saw strong April starts wiped out by May swoons, but that the Brewers have been able to navigate this challenging stretch without losing ground while taking care of business against their divisional rivals is encouraging.
Cain and Yelich are expected to return at some point during the road trip. Manny Piña (above) is eligible to return this weekend and Corbin Burnes could return at some point this month, too.
And just as five more months of games leaves plenty of time for the Brewers to tumble out of first, the schedule also provides plenty of time for those who slumped out of the gate to snap out of their funks and get on a hot streak.
"We're really being tested right here in April, but we've come through better than I think anybody could expect," Shaw said. "Our pitching’s been unbelievable. Offensively, we’ve struggled but I don’t think that’ll be the case all year. But right now, our pitching is carrying this team and offensively we’re getting healthier and hopefully we’ll get swinging the bats a little better here as we get into May."