After working his way out of Spring Training, Mitch Ellis competed in his first season of Minor League Baseball as part of the Kansas City Royals’ organisation. With a move to full-time pitching helping his focus heading into this part of his career, Ellis has recognised a more prominent role for himself, going forward from this time in his career.
After beginning his professional career in 2018 as an infielder and hitter, Ellis was beginning to feel like he needed to change his game if he wanted to prolong this passage to playing baseball and be afforded greater opportunities and experiences.
Ellis’ first professional appearance on the mound came while playing for the Brisbane Bandits of the Australian Baseball League in 2018, though it was more so an experimental foray in the latter stages of a game where the result was already well-established.
In Game One of a four-game series against the Sydney Blue Sox in late December, the Bandits were down 2-11 before head coach David Nilsson handed Ellis the ball at the bottom of the eighth inning to finish off the game. Ellis would complete his one inning without giving up any hits or runs.
“My first year in Brisbane, I pitched one inning and it was more so, it was a blowout game and the coach asked if I wanted to, get the game over with and get on the mound so I threw an inning there and it wasn’t really too much,” Ellis told The Inner Sanctum.
“[At the Melbourne Aces] I was a two-way player but with Darryl George getting hurt, I played predominately in the infield for the first half of the [2019/20] season and then got on the mound and showed a bit of promise and [was] kinda just used at the end there as a pitcher.”
Ellis would remain a two-way player throughout his first season with the Aces and pitched a combined five innings as a relief pitcher across December and January. In total, Ellis would end the 2019/20 season with an earned run average of 2.31 giving up five hits and one run with four strikeouts.
Across the same season, Ellis, when batting, had 19 at bats and scored one run from five hits for a batting average of .263.
For the most recent 2020/21 ABL season, Ellis appeared in 11 games for the Aces, in his first full season as purely a pitcher, not making any appearances at the plate with bat in hand for the year.
Ellis entered each of the 11 games from the bullpen and pitched a total of 11.2 innings, giving up 14 hits for seven runs with 11 strikeouts.
In eight of his appearances on the mound, he didn’t give up any runs however, he finished the year with an earned run average of 5.40 – a three-game stretch where he surrendered seven runs contributing to high ERAs he worked to bring down.
Prior to signing with the Kansas City Royals organisation at the beginning of last year, Ellis was in continued talks with multiple clubs based in the United States and was starting to explore his options, firstly as a two-way player.
As the 2019/20 ABL season was coming to an end, this mentality shifted as it was becoming increasingly clear that a move to full-time pitching would be the better choice.
“It was something that I was looking at, to try and sign and play some professional baseball over here [in the US] as a two-way player and then after speaking to the Royals guys and finding out more, it’s probably a better opportunity in pitching than it would be in playing [a] position,” Ellis said.
“I kinda looked towards leaning at that and I kinda felt that personally, it was super difficult to be a two-way player and to not have a specific focus and a specific goal to work towards.”
The Victorian, and Diamond Creek local reflected on the difficulties he faced when he would be training as a two-way player and part of the reasoning as to why he came to the conclusion to focus on pitching only.
“Changing from being a position player to a pitcher, there’s a lot bigger toll on your arm and on your shoulder and using different parts of your body. It was pretty challenging,” Ellis stated.
“I felt it was half spreading myself across two things and especially being a switch-hitter, it kinda meant I was taking a quarter of the swings I should’ve been taking cause I was spending half my time trying to practice pitching.
“So I thought ‘if I’m going to do something I may as well do it the Aussie way, sink my teeth into it, take a big bite and have a little chunk taken out’. So I kinda looked at it as [if] it was an opportunity to solely focus on one thing and look towards getting better at specific areas of the game instead of just trying to do enough to compete.”
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Heading into the 2021 Minor League season with the River Bandits, Ellis was encouraged by the fact he had just spent two years on the roster with the Melbourne Aces, being one of their top relieving pitchers. The ability to focus purely on one area of the game helped him immensely with the direction he wanted to head and work towards.
“This year, going in there as a pitcher only, it was a lot [but] it was something I definitely enjoyed,” he said.
“It gave me a lot more of an opportunity to get in there as a role-specific player and to be able to get clear opportunities and aspects of the game where I knew I was going to come in, or not come in.
“In the years previous it was kinda just ‘oh, if the game situation dictates, we’re up by a bit or they’re looking to save some pitching for the next day’, I’d kinda come in and eat up some innings so yeah, this year being able to primarily be a pitcher and have that role has given me more of an opportunity to play [and] pitch more often.”
Ellis enjoyed plenty of success in the Royals’ High-A affiliate, the Quad Cities River Bandits, which eventuated in a Championship win for the team, appearing in 28 games across the season.
He finished his season with the River Bandits pitching 48.2 innings, giving up 55 hits and 33 runs for an ERA of 5.36 and an 8-2 win-loss record, along with two holds and two saves.
He also made two appearances for the organisation’s Low-A affiliate, the Columbia Fireflies, pitching 4.4 innings in total, picking up the win in one of those two games. Among those two games, he gave up three hits and one unearned run for an ERA of 0.00 and a 1-0 win-loss record.
Ellis commented that while he is fully settled on pitching full-time going forward, he certainly hasn’t ruled out potentially becoming a two-way player once more, but that it would come later in his career.
“I think given the amount of years I’ve had to practice some hitting and playing in the field, it’s something I feel still pretty confident in to this day whereas pitching, it’s something that’s very foreign to me and I wasn’t really pitching in juniors or college, I felt like the bigger jump to make was in pitching,” he mentioned.
“I still feel like if I was to focus on pitching and develop that aspect if opportunities come later to potentially be a two-way or open up more game time like that, it’d be good.
“But I think baseball’s kinda moving towards that. They’re looking to have more players that play that two-way position. We’ve seen with the big name guys like [Los Angeles Angels player] Shohei Ohtani that it is possible.
“I mean, I wouldn’t quite put myself on that level that’s for sure but I think it’s definitely something I haven’t completely closed the door on but at the moment, definitely either the bigger focus needs to be on pitching to make that jump in professional baseball.”
The right-hander is excited by the fact that in previous years, Australian pitchers have found success in the MLB – West Australian Liam Hendriks (Chicago White Sox), Victorian Lewis Thorpe (Minnesota Twins) and New South Welshman Alexander Wells (Baltimore Orioles) – and takes pleasure in seeing them performing well at the top level, something he looks to join and replicate.
Ellis and Thorpe grew up together and played juniors with the Doncaster Dragons, Ellis admitting they regularly chat and that he leans on and asks the more experienced pitcher for advice and the pathway to the Majors.
“Being in two completely different paths to professional baseball, Lewis is someone I speak to literally every day so it’s reinforcing stuff that it is a possibility and obviously how hard and difficult it is to get there and what it takes, the mental stuff, as well as physical,” he said.
“Being able to see that it is possible for people like Lew to make it, and then at the other end of the Big League spectrum, another Aussie like Liam Hendriks to have the success he’s having up there [in Chicago] it’s definitely encouraging.
“To be able to lean on those other guys… and me, being my first year, being able to chat to them and get their experiences and understand what to expect and how to approach everything is super helpful.”
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