The 2019 season provides a chance to fully evaluate Mullins

He was the Orioles’ 13th round draft pick out of Campbell University in 2015. He showed such promise playing in 2016 at Single-A Delmarva and in spring training chances with the Orioles the following March that he skipped Single-A Frederick and went right to Double-A Bowie to begin the 2017 season.

Outfielder Cedric Mullins was on a fast track, one that would take him to Triple-A in June of last year and later to the majors for his first call-up on Aug. 10. He became the Orioles’ everyday center fielder with the blessing of Adam Jones, the face of the franchise.

Mullins had a pretty spectacular debut versus the Red Sox. He went 3-for-4 with two doubles, two RBIs, a walk and three runs scored.

Mullins doubled off Boston’s Nathan Eovaldi for his first hit in his first major league at-bat. He became the first player in Orioles history to record three hits in his big league debut. He was the second player in club history to record at least two hits, two runs, and two RBIs in his first game in the majors, joining Brent Bowers, who did it in 1996.

But after that stunning debut, Mullins had a few ups and downs along the way in the big leagues, including a hip issue. He batted .235/.312/.359 in 45 games for the Orioles.

This followed a season on the farm when he was real good, which led to his winning the Brooks Robinson Award as the minor league Player of the Year. Between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk, Mullins hit .289/.346/.472 with an .818 OPS. He had an .875 OPS in Double-A and a .771 OPS at Triple-A.

Baseball America rated Mullins as the club’s No. 26 prospect after the 2016 season and No. 9 at the end of 2017. Mullins had 170 at-bats after his call to the majors, so he is no longer a rookie and no longer eligible to be rated on prospects lists.

As Mullins approaches the 2019 season projected to begin the year as the everyday center fielder, two questions come to mind: Is he ready to play every day in the majors? Is he going to be able to keep switch-hitting in the majors?

For most of his time on the O’s farm, Mullins was a much better hitter from the left side against right-handed pitchers. But this was not true in 2018 at Bowie. Was that just an outlier, or does that provide hope that better days are ahead for Mullins hitting right-handed against southpaws?

In 2016 at Delmarva - which was his first full minor league season - he hit .290 against right-handers and .217 versus left-handed pitching. In 2017 at Double-A, he hit .293 versus righties and .208 against lefties.

Mullins-Batting-Bowie-Sidebar.jpgBut this past year, it was much different when he began the season with Bowie. Mullins hit .317/.373/.509 versus right-handed pitchers with the Baysox and hit .300/.317/.525 against lefties. He was good from both sides. But that success did not continue with a promotion to Triple-A Norfolk, where he batted just .220 versus lefties and .279 against right-handers.

And in the majors with the Orioles, Mullins hit .264/.319/.432 with a .751 OPS, recording nine doubles and four homers in 136 plate appearances versus right-handers. Against lefties, he batted .156/.296/.156 with a .452 OPS and no extra-base hits in 55 plate appearances.

So outside of the 2018 season with the Bowie Baysox, Mullins has not shown much as a pro since 2016 when batting right-handed. Mullins told me last September that the topic of his possibly hitting only left-handed had come up before.

“It was more or less kind of brought to my attention that if there was not much improvement on the right side, it could be a possibility,” Mullins said. Now keep in mind, that was with the previous team management.

But maybe the rebuilding Orioles will just need to see more of Mullins, and not just to determine whether he goes forward as a switch-hitter. But in the bigger picture, take a good long look at Mullins to see how he fits into the team’s plans beyond 2019, no matter which side of the plate he is batting from.

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