PHOENIX -- It's easy to look past Jermaine Mitchell's name on the list of A's outfielders in camp.After all, 12 other players are on there -- a number expected to grow by one upon Yoenis Cespedes' pending arrival -- and more than a third of them play best in center, as does Mitchell. He also happens to be the only one coming off microfracture knee surgery. "I'll probably be flying under the radar a bit," Mitchell said Sunday. But he hopes not for long, especially since he's deemed himself 100 percent healthy and says he's facing no restrictions, despite undergoing the surgery just five months ago. "I'm glad he thinks he's 100 percent, but I don't think he's 100 percent yet," manager Bob Melvin said. "We're not going to put him in a position where he's rounding bases and such. I'm glad he feels good, but he's going to be behind in games. So that obviously affects things. Until he's absolutely 100 percent and gets in games can we can watch his abilities and evaluate him." Still, his name is an intriguing one, and so is his talent, even though he's not the youngest prospect, at 27. Following a handful of disappointing seasons in the Minors, Mitchell last year showed the ability the A's had hoped to see when they selected in the fifth round of the 2006 Draft. Splitting the season between Double-A Midland and Triple-A Sacramento, he clobbered pitchers and hit a combined .332 with a .430 on-base percentage and .530 slugging percentage.
It marked, by far, the most successful campaign of a career he almost seemed destined to take elsewhere had he not performed in such a manner. The secret behind it all, he said, was rather simple."Going into last year, I told myself, 'Make sure every time you go out there to play, go out like you did when you were in Little League and have fun,'" he said. Fun was surely added, and a leg kick he sported for years was subtracted from his swing. "I cut it out completely, and my timing was a lot better," Mitchell explained. "I found myself being much more consistent with the barrel, since it allowed me to go back to a simple stride." Unfortunately, he was unable to show it off at the Major League level in September, when news broke he had been playing with a knee injury for much of the season. The damage, thought to be relatively minor at the time, proved rather extensive, leading the A's to believe he'd likely be out of the mix until at least April. Mitchell always had a different plan in mind, though. "I always shoot high," he said. "I was hoping to be ready the day after the surgery. I knew it would be a long process, but I feel great now." Despite the influx of outfielders crowding Oakland's roster, Mitchell will likely make his Major League debut before year's end, considering the club figures to audition several of its young players even after Spring Training action concludes. It will mark his seventh professional season. "I'm sure he wished he didn't get hurt," Melvin said, "because I'm sure he'd be right in the middle of it right now." "The only thing I can do is go out there whenever I get my opportunity and do what I know how to do," Mitchell said. "It was very frustrating when I found out I had to have surgery, but I knew it was the best thing for me at the time. If anything, the rehab's made my body stronger."