One year ago, Trey Mancini was a prospect at first base and uncertain whether the 25-man roster could hold him on opening day. Chris Davis blocked him at his natural position, Mark Trumbo was ticketed for designated hitter duties and organizational debate centered on the wisdom of his part-time role in the majors versus regular at-bats in Triple-A.
There’s been a dramatic shift as the Orioles near another spring training. Mancini is one of the certainties on a roster that still requires scaffolding in the construction phase.
No one knows who’s starting in right field or behind the plate, who’s filling the last three spots in the rotation and joining Richard Bleier in left-handed relief, who’s replacing Ryan Flaherty as utility infielder. It wasn’t until Saturday’s FanFest that confirmation came of Manny Machado’s switch to shortstop and Tim Beckham’s move to third base.
Mancini is a lock. He’s the left fielder, but he denies it in order to push himself to a higher level.
“Every spring training I’ve gone in with the mindset that I’m fighting for a job and I’m not going to change that, no matter what the circumstances,” he said. “I’m kind of like a creature of habit in that regard, so I’m always going to go in trying to compete for a spot.”
It’s accurate to portray Mancini as the heavy favorite after he batted .293/.338/.488 with 26 doubles, four triples, 24 home runs and 78 RBIs in 147 games and placed third in American League Rookie of the Year voting. He posted identical .293 averages against right-handers and left-handers, and he hit .301/.328/.398 in his final 28 games while the team collapsed around him.
Knowing that he’s in the outfield heading into camp should ease some of the stress. He won’t need crash courses on the back fields at the Ed Smith Stadium complex, where first base coach Wayne Kirby and vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson tutored him.
“Yeah, that aspect’s a little easier,” Mancini said. “The fact that I had a full major league season out there definitely helps, too. It was quite a change, but I was willing to do anything to make the team and I really came to love it out there.”
Mancini worked out again with Anderson in California for about a week before arriving at FanFest and he performed agility drills with strength and conditioning coach Joe Hogarty in Baltimore.
“Working on my jumps out there and things like that,” Mancini said. “I definitely feel better in that regard, too.”
MLB Network’s “Top 10 Left Fielders Right Now!” ranked Mancini fifth in the majors after the Cardinals’ Marcel Ozuna, the Mets’ Yoenis Cespedes, the Angels’ Justin Upton and the Brewers’ Ryan Braun, and ahead of the Athletics’ Khris Davis, the Nationals’ Adam Eaton, the Red Sox’s Andrew Benintendi, the Astros’ Marwin Gonzalez and the Yankees’ Brett Gardner. A flattering placement considering he learned to play the position last spring and had to erase doubts within the organization about his arm strength.
Asked to grade himself at the position, Mancini laughed and struggled to come up with an accurate and comfortable response. Modesty took over again.
“Maybe a B, B-plus, I don’t know. Somewhere in there,” he said.
“I’m not going to give myself an A. But yeah, for not playing out there, I thought I held my own.”
The lessons were plentiful in 2017 and Mancini will carry them into the upcoming season. Among them, he said, was “utilizing the people around you.”
“Guys on the team, coaches,” he said. “You have so many valuable resources around you, people that have been playing up here for a long time, and they really helped me through some minor slumps and things like that. If you reach out to people early on, it definitely helps you out.”
The tutor tables will turn. Mancini could become mentor to young outfielders Austin Hays, DJ Stewart and Cedric Mullins and rookie catcher Chance Sisco. He could share his experiences with Ryan Mountcastle, the former shortstop who moved to third base last summer and eventually might try the outfield.
“Caleb (Joseph) definitely sets a great precedent in that regard,” Mancini said. “They know that they can come to me if they need anything, need advice. Guys like that, I definitely looking forward to having up there, too.”
Two-thirds of the outfield is set with Mancini and Adam Jones. Hays, Joey Rickard, Anthony Santander and Jaycob Brugman are in the right field competition and the club is going to bring in a left-handed bat. Their interest extends to Carlos Gonzalez, Jon Jay and Jarrod Dyson.
If Mancini is holding any concerns over the lack of winter activity, he didn’t show his hand at FanFest.
“It’s not anything I think about too much day to day,” he said. “I know that it will all sort itself out in the end. So many things happen between now and the end of spring, and I’m fully confident with the group we have right now.”
Note: As arbitration results continue to trickle in, the Orioles have hearings scheduled in Phoenix, AZ. with second baseman Jonathan Schoop on Feb. 8 and pitcher Kevin Gausman on Feb. 14.
Schoop is seeking $9 million and the Orioles countered at $7.5 million. I’ve heard that the sides were only $240,000 apart, but didn’t reach an agreement.
Gausman filed at $6.225 million and the Orioles countered at $5.3 million.