Mitch Ellis’ Minor League Baseball career began when he signed a contract with the Kansas City Royals organisation in January 2020, but the planning and the amount of work to get there started years in advance.
A Diamond Creek local who played with the Doncaster Dragons as a junior, Ellis flew across the globe to the United States in 2015, destined to attend college and play baseball while he was there.
After two years at Heartland Community College in Illinois, Ellis moved to Western Illinois University for the 2017 season. Each consecutive year contributed more to the prospect of being signed which, with the help of a couple of scouting contacts at Doncaster, became a reality.
“I was pretty ecstatic. My family were absolutely wrapt,” Ellis told The Inner Sanctum.
“Obviously it was a bit of a different journey to get to pro ball and to get to get some offers so to have a couple of clubs interested and to decide on the Royals was pretty exciting.”
Although Ellis began his US college journey in 2015 when he was 21 years old, it wasn’t until his time at Western Illinois where he took his game to another level. Now 25-years-old, Ellis firmly believes the route through the college system was an important step he needed to take to get drafted.
“It was massive. I think probably the biggest issue we face in Australia is we just don’t play enough games,” Ellis said.
“Through the winter and the summer season (in Australia), you’ll probably play 12 [to] 15 games in the winter and probably 25 games in the summer whereas in college, we played about 45 games that fall.
“So within getting there and being in college for two and a half months, I’d already played a year’s worth of games and that was the pre-season.”
Ellis said one of the main reasons he went to college was to be exposed to more in-game opportunities. He described how essential it was to get a greater level of coaching and competitiveness that he may not have received back home.
“College for me was a great opportunity to get a lot more at-bats and to be around a lot, I wouldn’t say better instruction but dealing with instruction,” Ellis says.
“The competitive environment that college baseball breeds was something I was really looking forward to. It was really essential in my development as an athlete and a baseball player.”
In his junior year at Western Illinois in 2017, Ellis played in all 50 games for the Fighting Leathernecks, batting .310 on the year with five doubles, two triples and a home run.
He scored 19 runs, contributed 17 RBIs during the season and was quick on the basepaths with six stolen bases. Playing in the infield, Ellis had a .935 fielding average across the season.
Ellis was named Summit League Player of the Week on April 10 of that year after registering a .529 batting average across the week with four runs scored and three RBIs.
In his senior year in 2018, Ellis appeared in the first three games of the season before injury sidelined him for the next month and a half.
On his return game, he helped the Leathernecks to a 4-3 extra-inning win with a game-winning RBI double in the 10th inning. Throughout the entire 2018 season, Ellis appeared in 27 games for a batting average of .324 with 33 hits that included five doubles, a triple and two home runs with 10 RBIs.
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After college, Ellis believed his biggest opportunity for development was at Kansas City, assisted by the high levels of praise of the organisation from long-time friends and Royals scouts Neil Burke and Phil Dale, each helping Ellis put pen to paper in the first place.
“To have those guys in my pocket and in my ear telling me about how good the organisation is and how friendly they are and how big the opportunity there is to develop and how well they develop pitchers, for me was a big change,” Ellis said.
“I felt like it was the best decision and they were really helpful in helping guide me towards that.”
Similarly, Australian baseball has a deep connection with the Kansas City Royals due to a rich history of players and coaches within the organisation.
Four of Australia’s 36 Major Leaguers have played for the Royals within their careers, Ellis commenting that many conversations he’s had with others in the organisation has revolved around Royals alumni Peter Moylan and Allan de San Miguel.
“Everyone seems to have a lot of friendly words to say about either Allan or Pete. It’s been good,” Ellis says.
“I think I’m pretty lucky to have known those two blokes and I think that’s how almost every introduction started was, ‘Do you know de San?’ or ‘Have you met Moylan before?’.
“You happily say how close we are and then you can usually find some common ground on a few stories and that’s how the relationships have kind of all blossomed from there.”
Signing for Kansas City was a special moment for Ellis, doing so just months before the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he was quickly disheartened when news broke that the 2020 Minor League Baseball season wouldn’t be going ahead.
“It was super disappointing. Obviously, I think it was just a matter of weeks, if not a month and a half or maybe two months after I’d signed that I found out that the season was gonna get cancelled,” Ellis recalled.
“[It] was a bit tough to take in at first but then, I kind of just took it as a positive because it gave me an opportunity to finish off some uni stuff.”
As well as continuing with his studies, Ellis didn’t want the year to be lost for his baseball. He took his opportunity to focus on himself and improving his craft.
“With that extra year I thought, ‘Y’know what, I can take this as dream crushed or as a lifeline’, to be able to get myself and my body in the position to come over here whenever that opportunity comes to make the most out of it and be better prepared for it”, Ellis said.
While keeping in touch with his Kansas City coaches during the year, back home he was well-assisted by the Baseball Victoria High Performance team lead by Damian Shanahan. Throughout the tough Stage 4 restrictions Melbourne was placed under, Ellis was able to make the most of the time outside to train.
“Fortunately, with the one hour we were allowed to get outside, I was able to get down to a local park and just made the most of it, threw into a net really, stuck to it,” Ellis recalled.
“I was able to borrow some weight equipment, they (Baseball Victoria) gave me some weights and some bars, some workout stuff. I was able to use that so I wasn’t in gym-shutdown, I wasn’t completely staying in. I was able to keep developing and take two big steps forward.
“They (Baseball Victoria) went out of their way to help me and I think it’s an opportunity that a lot of people weren’t privy to so for me to have those resources, it was super important.”
Going through his first proper Spring Training in 2021, Ellis says it was a learning curve but revels in the fact that everyone was willing to help each other out, and for himself, being able to pick people’s brains and engage in friendly conversation.
Reflecting on the time he spent in 30-degree heat in Arizona at Spring Training, Ellis said the competitive environment in his first season at camp was an experience he won’t forget, stating it was an incredible feeling and one he looked to take advantage of.
“The opportunity to take the field everyday and learn from some of the people here and be around like-minded people, it [was] awesome. The resources they have here, it’s second-to-none”, Ellis mentioned.
Ellis said that the chance to have played for the Melbourne Aces in the Australian Baseball League during the summer helped him gain vital training and games experience leading into this year’s Spring Training, an opportunity many other players weren’t afforded.
“We’re pretty fortunate in Australia that we were able to play the ABL season whereas a lot of these Minor League guys [hadn’t] been able to play at all [for] 12-14 months,” Ellis said.
“It definitely makes the environment a lot better and it’s pretty crazy to think that a lot of these super talented players [hadn’t] had the opportunity to play in a year and a half or so.”
Currently, Ellis is suiting up for Kansas City’s High-A affiliate, Quad Cities River Bandits. He’s quick to convey his excitement of being able to play baseball in the Minor League system, no matter what level he’s at, but admits he has bigger dreams of getting to the top too.
“Long-term goals would be make the Major Leagues definitely and then hopefully be able to contribute to a World Series with the Royals,” Ellis tells.
“At this stage I‘m not really fussed with what level [I’m at]…as long as I can get an opportunity. Being an older guy as well, I’ll be able to maybe jump up some levels and just grab the opportunity.”
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