Mesa Thunderbirds baseball team is vying for yet another conference title in 2016 as one of the top team’s in the ACCAC: Mesa’s lineup is stacked with run producers who will steal bases and put together quality at-bats. One of the best examples of this successful offensive formula is Sophomore OF Mitchell Morimoto out of Bellevue, Washington. Mesa Skipper Tony Cirelli had nothing but good things to say about middle of the order slugger. “He (Morimoto) hunts a pitch and he is very disciplined,” Cirelli said. “He has great hands, crazy pop in his bat, and he consistently barrels balls up.” “Even with two strikes he is a really tough out.” Morimoto, who said his swing is constantly changing, credits his coaches at Mesa for his success at the plate over the last two years.
“The swing I have today is nowhere near what it used to be when I was in high school. Coach Cirelli and Coach Robb have definitely had the biggest influence on my swing over the past twoyears,” Morimoto said. “They’re always pushing me to get the most out of my swing and I’m so thankful I’ve been able to learn how to play the game from two great coaches.” Morimoto’s swing might be always in flux, but his routine in the on-deck circle and his approach in the batter’s box never changes, something that is a huge key to his success. “When I am up to bat I will always walk up behind the umpire, take a practice swing, look at my bat and take a deep breath, and lastly kick out both legs, Morimoto said. “I try to repeat this every time I’m up to bat.” “As for what I’m thinking I always tell myself I’m better thn this guy and I think about hitting the ball right back up the middle.”
Repeating his pre-swing routine helps Morimoto focus on his swing. For him, the pitcher on the mound, his stuff, the count, and the score of the game doesn’t change what he tries to do, This helps his mental approach. Both his swing improvements and his simplistic approach has helped him develop into one of the best hitters in the state and in the nation this season. Through 32 games this season, Morimoto is the best hitter in the ACCAC with a .509 average (56 hits/110 at-bats), and among players in NJCAA for Division II with at least 100 plate appearances, the next closest average is .440. His 38 RBIs is the fourth highest in the country. Morimoto is near or at the top of every major hitting stat that matters in the conference including first in triples (8), second in total bases (86), fourth in runs scored (38), 7th in stolen bases (14) and second in both on base percentage (.570), and slugging percentage (.782).
Possibly Morimoto’s greatest attribute his team is his plate discipline and his knowledge of the strike zone. He has walked more than he has struck out (15/4 K/BB) this season, often finding himself in favorable hitters counts. Morimoto credits the majority of his success this season to the increased level of importance he has placed on a pre-game routine. “That’s really the biggest thing that has changed this year from last year,” Morimoto said. “The coaches and trainers have just helped me realize how important stretching and hitting before the game actually is.”As a team, Mesa is right there with LSU Eunice, and Western Oklahoma State as one of the top offenses in the nation for Division II. Mesa is fifth in the nation in runs scored (282), second in hits (360), first in triples (29), fourth in RBIs (251), and fourth in stolen bases (80). Mesa is one of the most disciplined teams in the nation ranking second with 168 walks.
Morimoto’s favorite moment as a baseball player came in the summer of 2014 when he got a chance to play on national television for Lakeside Baseball in the American Legion World Series. “It was the first time that I played in front of a huge crowd and it was one of my favorite experiences.” Morimoto started taking the game seriously in his freshman year at Issaquah High School. “I had worked hard before that but that’s when I decided to go all in really pursue my baseball dream, Morimoto said. Out of high school I had nothing but D2 and D3 offers but I choose to come to Mesa because I felt like I was good enough to go to a D1 and I didn’t want to settle.” Every great athlete in any sport gets their motivation from somewhere allowing them to excel, and Morimoto is no different. “The biggest motivational factor for me was getting passed up by every D1 one school out of high school, Morimoto said. I’ve really worked hard at Mesa these last two years to make them regret passing me up.”
All that hard work payed off when he signed with the University of Arizona in the fall. He plans on either majoring in business or economics. “I couldn’t be more excited,” he said “Mesa is a huge baseball school and the coaches there are awesome.” Look for the T-Birds star to continue his great season, and with him in the middle of the order, Mesa should contend down the stretch for a conference title and maybe even another appearance in the JUCO College World Series.