Pittsburgh Pirates: Cal Mitchell a Surprising Breakout Candidate

Pittsburgh Pirates v Cincinnati Reds - Game One
Pittsburgh Pirates v Cincinnati Reds - Game One / Dylan Buell/GettyImages

While Cal Mitchell may not be the first name you think of when you see a Pittsburgh Pirates breakout candidate, he has a decent amount of potential

Many Pittsburgh Pirates fans are looking forward to seeing Oneil Cruz put it all together next year and have a massive season. Many are also hoping to finally see Ke’Bryan Hayes make the adjustments to be the player we all know he can be. Jack Suwinski is another player that some believe has immense breakout potential. However, one name that does not come up nearly as often is Cal Mitchell, but he’s a surprising breakout candidate for 2023.

This is for a few reasons. One is that FanGraphs’ Steamer projection likes him a lot. Steamer currently has him slashing .266/.322/.437 with a .329 wOBA and 112 wRC+. He is projected to have just an 18% strikeout rate but a poor 6.8% walk rate. But they like his power, projecting him to hit 11 home runs in 355 plate appearances and having a .171 isolated slugging percentage. 

Mitchell also had a strong September to close out the 2023 season. He batted .267/.360/.373 with a 112 wRC+ down the stretch, but his plate discipline numbers during the month is what’s more important. Mitchell swung outside the strike zone just 28.9% of the time when the league average rate was 32.6%. But even when he did swing outside the zone, he made contact 65.4% of the time (the league average rate is 63.5%). Mitchell’s swinging strike rate was just 10.1%, compared to the 11.2% league average rate. 

Even though Mitchell’s season as a whole was unimpressive, as he registered a 79 wRC+, he definitely showed the raw power ability. Mitchell’s average exit velocity clocked in at 89.9 MPH, while his hard hit rate was 40.7%. Both were firmly above the league average rates of 88.6 MPH and 38.2%, respectively. During the month of September, he kept a similar exit velocity but increased his hard-hit rate to 44.1% and barrel rate to 6.8%. 

It also can’t be understated what Mitchell did at Triple-A last season. It was only 261 plate appearances, but the young outfielder batted .339/.391/.547. Mitchell had a .406 wOBA and 146 wRC+. Sure, his 6.5% walk rate was slightly below average, but he had an outstanding 14.6% strikeout rate. His .208 isolated slugging percentage was another impressive number from his time at Indy. 

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There’s a lot to like about Mitchell as we head into 2023. He made some decent improvements after he was recalled in September and has shown good raw power. On top of that, he had a great year at Triple-A, and one of the more advanced projection systems likes his potential for 2023. Mitchell could end up being a regular part of the Pirate lineup in a corner outfielder/designated hitter role next season.