Mancini won’t take spot on roster for granted

The left fielder with a .293/.338/.488 slash line, 24 home runs and a third-place finish in American League Rookie of the Year voting isn’t convinced that he’s got a full-time job in 2018.

Trey Mancini is sincere when he says that he needs to compete in spring training to preserve his spot in the Orioles lineup, that nothing will be handed to him and there’s room for improvement. He isn’t being modest. He’s being Mancini.

Shouldn’t he be able to put himself in left field and Adam Jones in center while waiting for right field to take shape?

“No, definitely not,” Mancini said during Thursday night’s “Orioles Hot Stove Show” on 105.7 The Fan. “I definitely wouldn’t let myself get in that mindset. I’ve never really done that in any spring training because every spring training I’ve gone in I’ve tried to make a team. I’m going to go into this spring training aiming to make the major league team and I’m going to treat it like I don’t have a spot.

Trey-Mancini-run-orange-sidebar.jpg“In baseball you become a creature of habit in this game, so I’m going to do that again next year and not change anything up.”

The difference for Mancini will be his designation as an outfielder instead of a first baseman. He won’t be learning the position on the back fields at the Ed Smith Stadium complex.

“It’s nice having the experience and a major league season out there under your belt,” he said, “so I definitely feel more comfortable this spring training than last spring training.”

Mancini had daily sessions in camp with first base coach Wayne Kirby, who works with the outfielders, and vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson. They started with the basics.

“The first day Kirby had me out there and he would just point in a direction and we worked on my footwork to break that way,” said Mancini, who borrowed an outfielder’s glove from his best friend, a former high school teammate who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“It kept progressing and we’d take a lot of balls off a machine, which is tough. It’s really beneficial. Buck (Showalter) always says there’s a high sky in Florida and it is. It’s actually tougher in spring training, I’d say, to judge some fly balls off a machine than it is in a stadium during the season, so it’s a good place to get your feet wet.”

The Orioles brought him north after camp and tossed him in the deep end.

“We had a workout the day before the season started, so I took a lot of fly balls that day,” he said. “I was like, ‘All right, I better get it going here.’ That’s something that just comes with experience during the games. That’s the bottom line. You have to get experience. You have to play during games, you have to play with fans heckling you the whole time. You just have to go through that experience to get comfortable.”

Mancini climbed the organizational ladder to reach Baltimore, making stops at short-season Aberdeen, low Single-A Delmarva, high Single-A Frederick, Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. He was allowed to skip the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League based on his collegiate experience at Notre Dame, where the Orioles plucked him in the eighth round of the 2013 draft.

While other prospects have sped through the system - Austin Hays went from Aberdeen in 2016 to the majors in September, never touching down in Delmarva or Norfolk - Mancini had to spend his first 17 games in 2016 at Bowie after hitting .359/.395/.586 to win the Eastern League batting title the previous summer.

“I do feel like I needed to do that, actually, in hindsight especially,” Mancini said. “I needed to go to every level and kind of fail a little bit and go through some tough times and you learn a lot about yourself and how to get out of tough situations. And the further you go along in the minor league process the more that happens, so you learn to deal with failure.

“In college you can get away with sometimes just letting your talent take over, but it’s a lot more of a mental game in professional baseball.”

Doubts crept into Mancini’s mind after he batted .251/.295/.396 in 69 games at Frederick in 2014 and returned to the Carolina League the next season. His name wasn’t littering top prospect lists. It never did.

“There were a couple times when I was in Frederick and I thought to myself, ‘Is this my ceiling? I’ve got to figure some things out,’ ” he said.

“The next spring training after that was when Brady Anderson did a lot with me and my swing, so that was a game-changer for me, a career-changer.”

The Orioles lost 19 of their final 23 games this season as the team fell into a collective slump. Except for Mancini, who crafted a 17-game hitting streak and batted .301/.328/.398 in September/October. The rookie hit everything except the wall.

Mancini posted a .269 average in August, which he regarded as a slump, but he also belted six home runs. Then he took off again the following month.

“I started doing a little bit better of a job of going in the ice tub,” he said. “I hate going in the ice bath. I have a tough time doing that, but doing things like that and keeping your body fresh is really important and I started to do that as the season went on. So that could be a reason for that. And a lot of it was adjustments.

“August was just one of those times where I had struggled a couple times. And against the Angels I really struggled.”

Mancini can laugh about it. He went 0-for-22 with a walk and six strikeouts against the Angels.

“I was 0-for-the-Angels,” he said, laughing. “That’s a big reason for the August, too. They had my number. I had to kind of grind through a couple of those times and get back to who I am.”

He’s Trey Mancini and he’s going to have a regular role with the Orioles in 2018. Just don’t tell him.

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