It's the closest he's been to a baseball field in months, and Jared Mitchell is wearing a different kind of uniform. Mitchell, a first-round draftee in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, came back on Monday to represent the White Sox at this year's entry draft. Mitchell, who's rehabbing from a left ankle injury suffered in Spring Training, seemed eager on Monday to serve his team in any manner possible.
"It's kind of surreal," said Mitchell before the draft, standing in short left field of the MLB Network's Studio 42. "It's fun getting to be around these guys, all these older players. It's surreal, but I'm blessed to have this opportunity. I'm taking it all in and enjoying it."
And for Mitchell, that's really the only choice. The outfielder was selected 23rd overall by the White Sox last June, and after signing relatively quickly, he batted .296 for Class A Kannapolis. Mitchell, who played both baseball and football during his college years at Louisiana State University, was turning heads in Spring Training before suffering an injury that irrevocably altered his season.
"I can remember like it happened just two hours ago," he said Monday. "We were playing the Angels, and I went into the game in the sixth inning. On the first play, Juan Rivera hit a ball into left-center. I went back on it, and the whole time, I was thinking, 'I've got a chance at this. I can probably make this play.' So I get back there and I jump, but I'm already at full speed. I catch it, and I hit the wall with my foot up. When I came down, I didn't think anything was wrong. I looked in my glove to make sure I still had the ball, then I got up and tried to take a step.
"I didn't have any feeling from my foot to my knee, and it felt like I was going to collapse. I said, "You've all got to come get me." I can remember. They were like, 'Can you walk?' I said, 'Walk? You'd better get somebody who can cart me. I can't even move right now."
Mitchell wound up diagnosed with a torn tendon in his left ankle, and he underwent surgery to repair the damage. Chicago's team physicians don't expect him to be able to return until September at the earliest, and Mitchell won't even be able to run on flat ground until next week. The best-case scenario, at this point, involves Mitchell going to Instructional League and the Arizona Fall League if he's able.
That's still a long way off, though, and right now, all he can do is continue concentrating on the mundane task at hand.
"It takes me a little more than two hours every day," said Mitchell. "I'm doing a lot of underwater running on the treadmill right now and strength and stability stuff. I should be running on land in about a week or so. I do it all at home. I've been around all of the guys I played ball with at LSU, and I've been around family and everything. It's really made the process a little bit easier that being somewhere by myself, being alone."
Mitchell, the Most Outstanding Player at the 2009 College World Series, said that he's never really had a major injury before. He was already facing an adjustment process due to choosing baseball over football, but now he can't play anything at all. Mitchell said he finds himself watching baseball games and practicing his swing in the mirror, all with the hope of getting back on the field.
"I wouldn't say it's hard to stay positive," he said. "I pride myself on being able to keep moving forward no matter what happens. Whether it's something negative or something positive, I just try to keep building on the situation. It's a little different because I've never been in this situation in my life. I've never had a real injury, and since I was a little boy, I've always been going and going, playing this and playing that. It's a little different being sidelined right now, but like I've said, I try to stay positive and make the best of every situation."
And since that's the case, you won't find Mitchell second-guessing his decision to turn professional. Mitchell knows that he could've hurt himself in college or as a professional, and he's aware that adversity is part of the path to success. Mitchell said he really hasn't had any bad days on his path to recovery, and he said his ankle has felt better every day he's woken up since his surgery.
Now, the only secret is finding the patience to get through the rehabilitation and to envision happier days ahead.
"I really think I made the right decision," he said. "I think it's worked out for the best and I really think it's going to keep working out for the best. I think this little injury is just a bump in the road, and it's all about how you bounce back. If everything was all about the success you've had in life, then success wouldn't be what it is. It's about how you bounce back, and I'm looking forward to getting better and making my comeback."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.