Pittsburgh Pirates 2022 Season in Review: Outfielder Cal Mitchell

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - AUGUST 05: Cal Mitchell #31 of the Pittsburgh Pirates bats against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 05, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - AUGUST 05: Cal Mitchell #31 of the Pittsburgh Pirates bats against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 05, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images) /
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Although Pittsburgh Pirates young outfielder Cal Mitchell did not do great in his rookie year, he did show promise that he could become more.

The Pittsburgh Pirates promoted many top prospects throughout the 2022 campaign. You had big promotions like Oneil Cruz, Roansy Contreras, Jack Suwinski, and Rodolfo Castro, but you also had many other debuts like Yerry De Los Santos, Colin Holderman, Liover Peguero, Travis Swaggerty, and Canaan Smith-Njigba. The Pirates saw a myriad of different outfielders this season, and one of them was Cal Mitchell.

Mitchell’s overall numbers in the major leagues could have gone better, to say the least. In 232 plate appearances, he batted just .226/.286/.349 with a .281 wOBA and 79 wRC+. Mitchell’s 7.8% walk rate and 22.4% strikeout rate weren’t terrible, but at the same time, weren’t anything to write home about. On top of that, he only had a .123 isolated slugging percentage.

But some silver linings could hint there’s more there than meets the eye. The first is Mitchell did extremely well at Triple-A Indy. In 261 plate appearances, the lefty outfielder had a .937 OPS, .406 wOBA, and 146 wRC+. Among all Triple-A players with 250+ trips to the dish, he was top 15 in all three stats. Second, Mitchell ended the season on a positive note. He posted a .734 OPS, .329 wOBA, and 112 wRC+ after the Pirates recalled him at the start of September. The third hint was the raw power he showed in the majors. While his surface numbers may not tell you he has power, he still had an excellent 89.9 MPH exit velocity and 40.7% hard-hit rate, both of which were above average. In his September hot streak, he also upped his hard-hit rate to 44.1%.

What Mitchell did struggle with was making quality contact. His barrel rate was just 4.9%. If Mitchell had had enough batted ball events to qualify for percentile ranking on Baseball Savant, that would have been somewhere around the bottom 20th to 25th percentile. But, like the rest of his numbers in September, his barrel rate increased to 6.8%, which still would have been below average, but now in the 41st percentile, a noticeable improvement.

While Mitchell has a higher offensive ceiling than we saw last season, his defense left much to be desired. He had -4 defensive runs saved, and outs above average in less than 500 innings played. Mitchell was also in the 47th percentile of outfield arm strength and 23rd percentile of sprint speed. He only played right field, and given he’s never been known for his defensive capabilities, the Pirates will likely try and get him more playing time in left field and at designated hitter next season.

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Mitchell showed he has the potential to be a solid batter. He makes hard contact but now needs to make more quality contact. It looked as if he made some adjustments down the line, striking out less, walking more, and making better contact, but there were still things he needed to work out. His 5.9-degree launch angle in September was closer to what Ke’Bryan Hayes had. Still, if he can manage to get that back up to the 6-8 degree range and keep up the same exit velo/hard-hit rate and the same walk rate and strikeout rate, he could be a sneaky breakout candidate in 2023.

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