SARASOTA, Fla. - The work is done in the morning and early afternoons, ground balls hit to Tim Beckham at third base under a hot Florida sun on the Camden Yards replica field. The first Grapefruit League game hasn’t been played and grades remain incomplete, but the transition so far has been seamless.
Manny Machado has an ideal vantage point over at shortstop, Beckham’s old position, and he’s impressed with how his teammate is handling the move both mentally and physically.
“I think he looks great,” Machado said. “I think he’s putting his mind into it and at the end of the day I think he’s just excited to be playing and excited to be given a chance to go out there and do what he can do every day.
“As far as how he looks at third base, I think he looks great. I think he’s going to do a great job over there. He has the right people around him and we’re going to help him. Bobby (Dickerson) is going to help him. He’s all about working, so I’m excited for this year and I’m excited to see his infield work this year. It’s going to be a good year for us.”
Though Beckham obviously preferred to stay at his natural position, he didn’t resist the move to third base, where he’s made five major league starts and nine appearances. His enthusiasm was apparent at FanFest and he’s still tackling the challenge with gusto, welcoming the chance to stay in the lineup on a daily basis rather than settle for a part-time role.
Third base beats the bench.
“He’s just embracing it,” Machado said. “He’s excited to be playing. I know that’s what he talks to us about. He just loves the opportunity to get the chance to go out there and just produce every day as an everyday player.”
Machado is working out on the same field as Beckham, taking the same ground balls from Dickerson at shortstop. Mention of his switch to short always puts a smile on his face.
“Oh man, it’s been great. I love it,” he said. “I’m excited to be back and I’m looking forward to starting games.”
Cedric Mullins sits in the same row of lockers as the two infielders, but he’s in a much different place. The Orioles invited him to camp. He’s an outfielder still waiting his turn in the majors after hamstring injuries limited him to 76 games at Double-A Bowie.
“It was tough,” he said. “I learned a lot about taking care of my own body. There’s a lot of work that goes into it and I had to learn the hard way. Just being more prepared going into this season, I should be better prepared.”
The Orioles allowed Mullins to skip high Single-A Frederick and he batted .265/.319/.460 with 19 doubles, one triple, 13 home runs and 37 RBIs in the Eastern League. He forced the organization to notice him the previous summer at low Single-A Delmarva, where he hit .273/.321/.464 with 37 doubles, 10 triples, 14 home runs, 55 RBIs and 30 stolen bases in 124 games.
Intrigued by the variety of tools that he offers, including defense, the Orioles placed Mullins’ name among their camp invites.
“It was a very humbling experience, just knowing that I was getting the opportunity regardless of what I was able to put together last year along with the injuries,” he said. “It’s a great way to show that I’m back, I’m healthy and I’m able to perform.”
The complex should look familiar to Mullins. The Orioles kept bringing him over from minor league camp last spring and he turned heads with a long home run to center field in a B game against the Pirates on the Camden Yards replica field.
“It kept my head right,” he said. “I still had the goal of performing well, still kept the mentality of, ‘We’re going to grind out a good spring training’ to continue to work my way up. Just coming off that spring training, I developed a lot of confidence throughout that.”
Mullins didn’t report this week consumed with thoughts of heading north with the team or whether it was more within his reach to simply leave another positive impression.
“I really haven’t thought about that,” he said. “Just coming in working hard, showing that I am progressing and just taking what comes to me.”
Mullins is a switch-hitter, which plays in his favor as the Orioles try to balance out their roster. They reached agreements this week with left-handed hitting outfielders Alex Presley and Colby Rasmus, but remain intrigued by their collection of position prospects.
“I’d like to see what these young kids can do,” said executive vice president Dan Duquette. “DJ Stewart is a 20-20 guy. There aren’t too many 20 home run and 20 stolen base guys knocking on the door to the big leagues, so we can take a look at him.
“Mullins has some really exciting speed. That would be additive to our ballclub. He’s got the speed to patrol center field. He’s a true center fielder. Those guys I’m sure could use some more experience, but they’re both going to be in the organization and we can take a look at them.”
Note: The Orioles announced that they will be wearing the caps of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School baseball team, the Stoneman Douglas Eagles, on Friday during both pregame activities and the 1:05 p.m. game against the Rays at Ed Smith Stadium. The Orioles are joining every other team in honoring the victims of the shooting that claimed the lives of 17 students and teachers and to show support for the Parkland, Fla., community.
The caps will be authenticated, autographed and auctioned at orioles.com/auctions from Feb. 23 at 1 p.m. through March 4 at 6 p.m., with all proceeds benefiting the Broward Education Foundation