Cedric Mullins raised the bar to such impressive heights in 2021 with his first All-Star selection and Silver Slugger award, and becoming the first 30/30 player in Orioles history, that some regression the next summer was bound to happen. He became a tough act to follow. Blame it on himself.
Still productive at the plate, still dangerous on the basepaths and outstanding in the field, but a notch below his overall production.
Mullins established career highs with 64 RBIs and 34 steals. His 32 doubles were just five fewer than in the previous summer, and his 89 runs were only two short. He didn't commit an error and was a finalist for a Rawlings Gold Glove. But his average dropped from .291 to .258 and his OPS from .878 to .721.
Taking the usual offseason self-inventory has led Mullins to one particular area of his game. The decline versus left-handed pitching.
Mullins abandoned switch-hitting two years ago, surrendering to his poor splits and leaving the right side of the batter's box, and slashed .277/.337/.451 against southpaws. But he slashed .209/.265/.313 in 2022, compared to .279/.340/.441 against right-handers.
Improving left-on-left was marked as a priority.
“This will be the third year going in, so I’m looking to see the adjustments that I’ve made come to fruition,” he said during the Birdland Caravan stop in Odenton. “That’s probably my main focus.”
The work at home includes simulating at-bats against lefties. He doesn’t necessarily need a pitcher to make it happen.
“Machine, angles, spin, stuff like that,” he said.
Easier to tackle those splits than some others, like his .243/.299/.426 line in 78 home games and .272/.336/.381 line in 78 games on the road.
Mullins made his fourth consecutive opening day roster, but this year’s spring training will be different. He knows that he’s on the club, of course, but he’s leaving teammates to begin working out with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. A phone call to former Orioles outfielder Adam Jones guided his preparation and how to get into the proper mindset.
"It's exciting,” Mullins said. “I'm going to be around a bunch of well-renown talent. These guys have been doing it for a long time and it's just an honor to be a part of it."
Mullins intended to be an early arrival to the Ed Smith Stadium complex, fast becoming the norm among Orioles. They don’t dawdle.
“Just to kind of settle in,” he said, “get acclimated, get moving around before all the guys show up.”
Other changes for Mullins include how he’s hearing so much positive feedback on the team, which ceased during the teardown and rebuild. Fans are energized. Various outlets are grading the club more enthusiastically.
Playoff talk among the Orioles is out in the open. They believe in the group that’s back and the prospects who are graduating to the majors, and they approve of having veterans Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin in the rotation, Adam Frazier in the infield/outfield mix, Mychal Givens in the bullpen again and James McCann as a second catching option.
“It’s very exciting,” Mullins said. “I definitely like the guys that we added. I think they kind of bring that veteran presence. At the same time, I know they’re ready to win, so it’s exciting to have those guys come in, the guys that we have right now, kind of having that feeling of what it takes but also knowing just kind of what it felt like. I think we’re hungry to get out there and prove ourselves.”
The experienced and established core now includes Mullins, outfielder Austin Hays and first baseman Ryan Mountcastle. They’ve graduated in status inside the clubhouse, having gone through the rebuild and coming out on the other side of it. They’re counted on now to do some of the leading, especially with Trey Mancini, Jordan Lyles, Rougned Odor and Robinson Chirinos gone.
“I think, on the discipline side, a lot of guys already know what they’re doing,” Mullins said. “I think it’s just a matter of kind of creating that environment where it’s staying relaxed but at the same time keeping that intense focus.”
The Orioles boarded the bus at Crooked Crab Brewing Company shortly after Mullins was done posing for photos. He was one of the last to leave. The room was packed and the crowd volume cranked, especially during introductions.
“You’re representing your city,” Mullins said, “and when people come out and support, it definitely brings a vibe of enthusiasm and just a winning mindset, even off the field.”
The work on it is coming soon.