Today is the first in a weekly column that I am going to write in a “Where are they now?” sort of format. The column is devoted to former Cub players. In the process of deciding who would lead off my column, I stumbled across this tidbit and my choice became easy.
“After a successful, but frustrating, five-inning outing Sunday, sources said Olsen scuffled with fellow starter Sergio Mitre in a tunnel behind the Florida dugout during the bottom of the fifth.”
That news was in regards to Marlins pitcher Scott Olsen, fighting with former Cub Sergio Mitre. News of former Cubs always catches my eye, but this had the makings of something a little more interesting. There were several versions of the story, but from most accounts it appears that Olsen (emerging candidate for MLB Bonehead of The Year) was being
an ass his usual self. His frustration boiled over to berating a clubhouse attendant for a loose button on his uniform shirt. Supposedly Mitre admonished Olsen for his behavior and that is when all hell broke loose. Olsen ended up getting a two game suspension for insubordination. I really liked the sound of Mitre being the good guy. Put that together with the fact that he is having a decent season, and it made profiling Sergio an easy choice for me.
A little history: The Cubs selected Sergio Mitre in the 7th round of the 2001 amateur draft. His rise through the Cubs lower farm system was pretty quick, spending just a year each at Boise and Lansing. His steady improvements at the minor league levels made him a candidate for a call up when Mark Prior and Kerry Wood began to have health problems. Mitre made the jump from AA West Tennessee for his big league debut in July of 2003. In a spot start for an injured Mark Prior, Mitre drew a tough first assignment. He went up against Greg Maddux and the Braves at Turner Field. It proved to be more than the 22 year-old Mitre was ready for. In 3 and 2/3 innings he gave up 8 earned runs on 10 hits and three walks. He went on to take the loss and was sent back down to West Tenn the very next day. Despite his unmemorable major league experience, Mitre enjoyed reasonable success that year in AA ball. All totaled Mitre struck out 128 in 145 innings of work at West Tenn and continued to show promise. All of that promise, along with Prior being hurt AGAIN, led to a 2004 opening day roster spot for Mitre. He would go on to start nine times for the injured Prior, but with fairly unremarkable results. Mitre would spend most of 2004 and 2005 bouncing between Iowa and Chicago. Yet in 2005, he would end up enjoying his longest and most successful run with the big league club. He appeared in a total of 21 games and pitched 60.1 innings as both a starter and reliever that year. The highlight of which, was a complete game shutout against the Florida Marlins. Which may have ended up being an audition of sorts, because in December of 2005 the Cubs shipped Mitre to Florida as part of the Juan Pierre trade.
Now in his second season with the Marlins, the 26 year-old Mitre appears to have finally found his stride. After an injury plagued 2006 campaign, Mitre came back strong for the start of 2007. He had a very good spring for the Marlins and earned himself a spot in the rotation. Since then he has gone on to start 18 games and pitch 105 innings. While his record of 4-5 may not look especially great, he is playing pretty well. The Marlins team is not real good and the bullpen has let Mitre down several times resulting in quite a few no decisions after quality outings. At the time that I started writing this column Mitre was sporting a 2.82 ERA, which was sixth best in all of baseball. However, perfect timing led to Mitre starting last night against the Diamondbacks, and he had a rough night. His ERA is now 3.34, still good enough to be ninth best in the National League. Despite not being a big strikeout guy, Mitre has individual numbers similar to Ben Sheets and Josh Beckett. He simply gets far less help, offensively and defensively. His control is better this year (BB/9 1.89), as well as his efficiency (P/IP 14.30). Unfortunately for Mitre, he is a ground ball pitcher on a team that ranks second to last in fielding percentage and tied for second in team fielding errors. In his return to Wrigley earlier this year, Mitre showed just how much he has grown since leaving the Cubs organization. He allowed just 3 hits, one walk and struck out 7 in just 4 innings of work. He left that game with a hamstring injury, but he looked good.
Personally, my memories of Sergio Mitre have always been tied to the disappointments of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. It probably isn’t fair to lump him into that situation, it’s just hard not to. Mitre spent the early part of his career being shuffled around, based upon the health of those two guys. If the Cubs could have been more patient with Mitre he may have paid dividends for them. He was doing what all teams hope for out of a young prospect by improving every year at every level. Bad timing simply forced the Cubs to put him on a faster development schedule than he was capable of. Consequently, the team struggled to find his identity and pitching role. Now he appears settled as a starter for the Marlins.
I don’t usually end up rooting for a lot of former Cub players to be successful. Yet, I always kind of liked Mitre and only hope for his continued success. Unless of course, his spot in the rotation comes up on September 25th, 26th, or 27th.
As we drive on, that’s my look Through The Rear View.
Through the Rear View appears every Wednesday. If you have a topic to suggest, send Tony an e-mail.