Outfielder Cedric Mullins called being named the winner of the Brooks Robinson Award as the Orioles’ minor league Player of the Year “top tier.” But having Mr. Oriole himself there might have taken it a few tiers beyond that.
When Brooks Robinson is around, is it possible to have a bad day?
The Orioles Hall of Famer, legend, all-time great and current team special advisor and community liaison was seated in the second row during a press conference last night to honor the minor league award winners.
“This is one of the great nights of the year for the Orioles,” said executive vice president Dan Duquette to begin the press conference. “We get to honor the players that have had good seasons. I am so happy and honored we have Brooks Robinson with us tonight, too, and he’s going to give out his award. A Hall of Famer, my personal favorite and the first big leaguer I ever met in my life was Brooks when I was 8 and I still remember that at Fenway Park.”
Mullins hit .289/.346/.472 between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk this year. Ron Johnson managed him at Norfolk. He received the Cal Ripken, Sr. Player Development Award for the second time in his career last night.
“I couldn’t put my hand on one thing he couldn’t do,” said Johnson. “He can run, he can defend, he can hit, he’s got power. When he came up to my team, he never said anything. This might be the third conversation he and I had all year. Just kidding. You could tell he had a feel for the game. He knows how to play. I’m still looking for something he can’t do. That is as good as it gets kid.”
Rich Morales was named the Orioles’ Jim Russo Scout of the Year. He signed Mullins after the club drafted him in Round 13 in 2015. Morales remembers watching Mullins play for the first time as Louisburg (N.C.) College. He called O’s national cross-checker Matt Haas after two innings that day and told him he had found a special player.
“I sought his parents out even before the game was over,” Morales recalled. “I introduced myself and said, ‘You will see a lot of me and your son will play in the big leagues one day.’ And his dad was wearing a Yankees hat. I said, ‘You’ve got to get rid of that.’ “
The Orioles honored so many players last night they needed a press conference split into three sections. One featured their co-winners of the Jim Palmer Pitcher of the Year Award, left-handers Keegan Akin and Zac Lowther. Akin went 14-7 with a 3.27 ERA for Bowie. Lowther went 8-4 with a 2.18 ERA between Single-A Delmarva and Single-A Frederick. The pitchers were asked about being in the pipeline now that the club is rebuilding.
“I mean, you see the opportunities,” said Akin. “I think it brings more competition into the clubhouse, which is always a good thing. You always want that, it makes everyone work harder.”
Akin was asked if he feels close to being major league ready.
“If you ask any minor league pitcher, they’re going to say they’re ready,” he said. “But I just have to do what I can control and that is perform, throw strikes and compete and when that day comes, it comes.”
Akin and Lowther both praised the organization for its pitching development involving them.
Said Akin: “I think it is one thing that we preach pretty well in this organization. Especially knowing pitching at Camden and it’s not a pitcher’s ballpark. The pitching coaches help us develop our off-speed and our fastballs to stay down in the zone and try to produce more ground balls. That type of stuff and I thank them for that.”
Added Lowther: “The pitching coaches at each level, they are in the right places because of what they are good at and what they can communicate. We had guys in Delmarva who are more pitch sequencing and hope to develop off-speed pitches. And then in Frederick, we’ve got guys that can really talk the mental game for guys that can almost get there but are struggling. The coaches are a big key for us at each level, teaching us what we need to know to get onto the next level.”
The Orioles also honored Delmarva outfielder Zach Jarrett, this year’s recipient of the Elrod Hendricks Minor League Community Service Award. The Orioles also recognized their minor league strikeouts leader, right-handed pitcher Dean Kremer. Kremer not only led the Orioles, but he led all minor league levels in full-season baseball, striking out 178 batters for three different teams this season. Additionally, the Orioles recognized PBATS Gulf Coast League Trainer of the Year Adam Sparks. He was selected by his peers as the Rookie-level GCL Trainer of the Year, awarded by the Professional Baseball Athletics Trainers Society.
Finally, Robinson took a look at the current Orioles, who hope to rebuild the team into a winner and remembered his early years in the organization and a similar time.
“There should be a great optimism. I don’t get down here enough to see it in the clubhouse, but when I went to spring training in ‘56, we had a lot of kids,” he said. “They all said, ‘Hey, here’s a chance.’ I’m sure that is what they are saying now in the Orioles clubhouse. You never know. You look at a kid and say, ‘How is he going to make the big leagues?’ and the next thing you know, he’s there playing.
“When they first get here, the game is a little fast for them and harder. They just have to try and relax and play the way they did in the minor leagues.”