SOUTH TAMPA — Plant High graduate Mychal Givens got his first taste of adversity this summer as a professional baseball player.
Givens, 20, who plays for the minor league Delmarva Shorebirds, was shelved with a sprained left thumb in June.
It was a tough break. The Shorebirds are part of the Baltimore Orioles minor league system and, only a year out of high school, Givens had impressed the Orioles during extended spring training and started his season at a higher level than expected.
The injury came on top of a late start to his professional career last year, after signing his contract for a reported $800,000 bonus well into the summer. He made his debut with the team in the fall instructional league, so there was considerable anticipation from the Orioles and Givens to see how he would stack up this spring.
He didn't disappoint, impressing the Orioles with his athleticism and maturity. He was sent to Delmarva, a low Class A team, rather than a lower rung in the Orioles system.
"Our people feel he's a solid guy," said John Stockstill, Orioles director of player development. "We wouldn't send a kid to Delmarva that quickly if he wasn't able to handle it mentally."
Said Stockstill: "He's at a stage where he has to prove himself, and this (the injury) was somewhat of a little setback, but we don't anticipate it being a big one."
Neither does Givens, muscular at 6 feet 1 and 185 pounds. He said he didn't feel overmatched this spring or with the Shorebirds, located in Salisbury, Md.
"It went well," said Givens, while relaxing at home in Tampa last month as his thumb healed. "They started me off slow, just getting used to things. I thought I was going to be staying back (in extended spring training) and end up at rookie ball or short season A ball because I didn't play at all last year. But I went in there prepared, and they saw my talent and ability when we started playing intersquad games."
At Delmarva, Givens had a hit and knocked in a run in his debut. He was hitting .222 with four RBIs when he injured his thumb sliding into a base.
Drafted as a shortstop, the Orioles had Givens playing a number of positions, including second base and designated hitter. That's common with young players. However, it proved to Stockstill that Givens wasn't in over his head.
"We like his versatility," Stockstill said. "We knew he had soft hands and a strong arm. The fact that he can go to Delmarva and hold his own at that young age and play different positions is a good sign.''
Givens was an All-State performer his junior and senior years in high school, leading Plant High to the Class 5A state semifinals as a senior. In addition to playing shortstop, he excelled on the mound with an 8-4 record and a 1.71 earned-run average.
The question with Givens has always been whether he would hit at higher levels. However, Stockstill and the Orioles have been impressed with his patience and ability to adapt with each plate appearance. Givens credits his coaches at Plant — Dennis Braun and John Ramos — with teaching him about situational hitting and what to look for at each level of pro ball.
"He's doing fine," Stockstill said. "I'm very realistic. At his age it's a five- to seven-year path to the big leagues, so I don't get too high or low on early returns because you get a false read. … We hope we can catch him up on some of the at-bats he missed this summer during the offseason during winter ball."
Givens had the soft cast removed from his thumb in early July and is now rehabbing at the team's minor league complex in Sarasota. He said it feels much better. He and team officials hope he can return to Delmarva's lineup before the season ends in early September.
"Especially because I did well in spring training and was feeling confident, I want to get back out there as soon as possible to show them what I can do," Givens said. "I know I have the ability to hit. It's all about the mental preparation and being ready when your chance comes."
Joel Poiley can be reached at [email protected]