The 20 Double-A games in which TJ Mittelstaedt played in 2013 were his most prominent in an eight-year career and, as it turns out, the least significant.
Mittelstaedt was let go by the Milwaukee Brewers organization during that season and has spent the last three-plus seasons in independent baseball.
He has thrived at this level and, at age 29, is having his best season. In 33 games, Mittelstaedt is batting .363 with seven home runs, 38 RBIs and a .470 on-base percentage as the Wingnuts’ cleanup hitter and third baseman.
Mittelstaedt has evolved as a hitter under second-year manager Pete Rose Jr., who helped Mittelstaedt raise his average by 30 points last year to .288. Now, Mittelstaedt is hoping someone notices.
The Wingnuts (23-10) begin a weekend series against Cleburne on Friday at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
“I was a totally different player than I am now,” Mittelstaedt said. “The development that happens in the minor leagues, it’s a little bit different. If I played in an organization where Pete was the manager or the hitting coach or hitting coordinator, I think things might have been different. Hopefully I would have been where I’m at now, earlier.”
Mittelstaedt began with the Wingnuts in 2015, former manager Kevin Hooper’s final season. He stayed when Rose became the manager last year and has become a more complete player, perhaps Wichita’s most important contributor.
After three seasons (he played with the Kansas City T-Bones in 2014) of exactly 16 home runs, Mittelstaedt is on pace for a career high. He also has significantly dropped his strikeout rate while maintaining his plate discipline and has become a greater threat on the bases, with 23 steals last year and seven so far in 2017.
Rose, the son of baseball’s career hits leader, has offered guidance on Mittelstaedt’s hitting and watched them turn into results, including a three-homer game against Salina this week.
“Mostly controlling my legs and not letting my head move,” Mittelstaedt said of Rose’s advice. “Doing that, the three-homer night happened and that’s the best that I’ve controlled my body throughout the swing. Allowing your head to not move, you make better contact more often and good things happen.”
Mittelstaedt’s offense is only part of his value to the Wingnuts. He was slated to be Wichita’s left fielder before third baseman Zack Cox was signed by the Detroit Tigers organization before the season, creating a need easily filled by the Wingnuts’ most versatile player.
Mittelstaedt has played every position except first base and catcher during his Wingnuts tenure, and in his career he has played at least 27 games at four positions. Rose has said Mittelstaedt’s flexibility would bring value to a major-league organization.
Mittelstaedt just needs one to call.
“It’s just a waiting game,” Mittelstaedt said. “I know Pete works hard for everybody, he has so many contacts in (affiliated) ball. We know there’s scouts here because he asked them to come. It’s a waiting game of keep winning games and the numbers will be where they’re at, and we’ll see what happens with the affiliates. Hopefully somebody calls.”
Cleburne at Wingnuts
- When: 7:05 p.m. Friday
- Where: Lawrence-Dumont Stadium
- Records: Cleburne 18-16, Wingnuts 23-10
- Radio: KGSO, 1410-AM, 93.9-FM