The emergence of Orioles first baseman Trey Mancini as a quality major league hitter and run producer and a player deserving again of consideration for the All-Star Game is especially impressive when factoring how the Orioles waited until the eighth round to draft him in 2013. And how he wasn’t even the first or second player from his school to be selected that year.
Third baseman Eric Jagielo and right-hander Dan Slania were plucked from Notre Dame before Mancini’s name was called. Jagielo went to the Yankees as the 26th overall selection in the first round and didn’t make it to the majors. Slania went to the Giants in the fifth round and tossed one inning for them in 2017 before his release two years later.
Mancini, Jagielo and Slania gave Notre Dame three draft picks within the top 10 rounds for the first time since 2004. Only one of them became established and really, really good.
“Trey was the eighth-rounder, the right-handed hitting first baseman, but he just did what he does. He just hits and hits and hits,” said Notre Dame pitching coach Chuck Ristano, who will throw to Mancini in Monday’s Home Run Derby.
“I always told people, you can make Trey look bad once. Intrasquads and stuff, somebody buries a slider. But if you went back to that pitch, he would make you pay. And I saw Trey at the very beginning of the aluminum bat change. It was getting nuclear, it was getting crazy.
“Trey’s freshman year they made a change to the bats and exit velocities radically changed. Trey had to hit his whole career through the most dead-bat period of college baseball history. The bats have kind of slowly caught back up where you’re starting to see some real offense in college baseball again. But Trey’s three years at Notre Dame were the worst three years to be a hitter in college baseball in probably the last 100 years. And he still hit and hit and hit.”
Mancini had to decide whether to return to Notre Dame for his senior season after leading the Big East in average (.389) and total bases (138), tying for first in triples (seven), ranking second in hits (89) and slugging percentage (.603), tying for third in RBIs (54) and tying for sixth in home runs (seven) and coming in seventh in on-base percentage (.431).
He was held hitless in just nine of 57 games and set a school record with a 23-game hitting streak.
Over his three seasons with the Irish, Mancini batted .345 with 39 doubles, 10 triples, 28 home runs, 133 RBIs, 357 total bases, a .405 OBP, .576 slugging percentage and 62 walks. He also had a .989 fielding percentage with 16 errors.
Mancini took the $151,900 bonus from the Orioles and left South Bend.
“If you want to put him on a video and hyper break down his swing mechanics and movements, as people will often do, I don’t know if it’s the sexiest swing path there is, but there’s an element of just, when confronted with a competitive situation, he hits. Period. He just always has,” Ristano said.
“Guys who hit tend to always hit. And I know going from college to professional baseball is a monster separator, but Trey was just that guy that it didn’t matter whether we were facing a projected first-rounder in college or we were facing somebody in the midweek who was not that, Trey just hit and hit and hit, and I’m just glad that he’s continued that trajectory. I’m thrilled it worked out for him at that level, and obviously thrilled that he’s got this great story to tell and that his shoulders are broad enough to carry that burden.”
Mancini won the 2012 Big East Home Run Derby while paired with Ristano. What makes a good pitcher in this event?
Find the plate and try to stay there.
“Strike-throwing ability, probably being able to throw to the top of the zone, or more specifically being able to throw where the hitter wants the baseball,” Ristano said.
“I think tempo’s important. It’s a little unique now because, the Home Run Derbys that I remember growing up, you’re not on a clock, it’s outs, so the clock variable is going to be interesting. But I think if you asked 100 hitters, they’d all give you 100 different answers outside of, ‘Put the ball where my bat goes.’
“I think it’s a little unique that I’m left-handed. I don’t know how many BP throwers are in this thing who are left-handed, but I guess that kind of aligns with what Trey’s looking for as a hitter. So, I’m going to do my best to serve it up.”
Perhaps the thin air in Denver will aid Ristano and Mancini. The ball tends to travel.
“That’s true,” Ristano said. “I thought of that, and then I was thinking, well, it’s not like (Shohei) Ohtani’s hitting in San Diego. I guess it makes it easier on me. ‘Hey, let’s not get shut out,’ but I don’t know that the rest of those guys need much help.
“I’ve never been to the ballpark in Denver. I’m curious to see how it flies.”
It should fly pretty high with Mancini joined by last year’s champion, Pete Alonso, plus Ohtani - who might try pitching to himself - Juan Soto, Salvador Pérez, Matt Olson, Trevor Story and Joey Gallo.
Mancini is the sixth seed and goes against Olson, the third seed, in the opening round.