Mullins on his 2021 season and moving forward

Cedric Mullins is going to be his own tough act to follow.

What can the Most Valuable Oriole and the first player in franchise history with a 30/30 season do for an encore in 2022?

“Those are things that I take into consideration in the offseason,” Mullins said this afternoon while sitting in the dugout before batting practice. “If my goal is to be a 35/35 guy or better, it’s a matter of finding out how I can become that guy.”

Manager Brandon Hyde trusts that Mullins won’t become overwhelmed by the heightened expectations. That the raised bar won’t crash down on him.

“I think he’s going to handle it really well,” Hyde said. “I think he’s got a ton of confidence. He really believes in himself. I think he puts more pressure on himself than he’s going to feel from the outside.

“How consistent he’s been this year without any drop-off really throughout the course of the year just kind of shows you how confident he is and how consistent he can play. And there’s going to be higher expectations next year, no doubt. That comes along with the territory of having a good major league season. People expect you to do it again.

“I just want Cedric to be Cedric, and if he hits 30 homers again, great. And if not, he’s going to put up great numbers and continue to take the at-bats that he’s been taking all year.”

Thumbnail image for Mullins-Swings-Lefty-White-ST-Sidebar.jpgMullins isn’t ready to start sifting through all of his accomplishments. He’s too much in the moment with five games left on the schedule. There’s the present to deal with before he can turn to the recent past.

“I definitely want to wait until I get home and kind of get settled into the offseason a little bit,” he said. “Then I’ll have time to take that breather and do what everyone does, reflect on things that you did, things that you want to get better at and prepare for the offseason at that point.”

There won’t be any drastic changes over the winter. Nothing that compares to abandoning switch-hitting.

“Might look back at some of the weaknesses I had during the season in terms of a few at-bats,” Mullins said, “and see how we can correct those and move forward from there.”

Mullins is going to seek improvement because that’s how he’s wired. Hyde has no idea what that entails.

“That’s a great question, because 30/30 doesn’t come around very often and Gold Glove defense in center field doesn’t come around very often,” Hyde said.

“I think when you’ve done something that no Oriole has done, it’s hard to do anything better than that.”

Hyde said other managers offer “high praise” of Mullins, an All-Star starter this summer after replacing the Angels’ Mike Trout.

“He is an extremely tough out, tough to pitch to, incredibly short swing, not a ton of holes,” Hyde said. “If you look at a heat map, there’s not glaring weaknesses. The bunt, they’ve got to play the third baseman in. They rave about his defense also, how many runs he’s saved us by getting to balls in the gaps. They’re very, very impressed.

“I think the most surprised that everybody’s been is, how can somebody do this versus left-handed pitching? He just started hitting lefty-on-lefty only. Nobody’s really seen that before, guys doing it that quick. That’s what I hear from the other side is not only is his year amazing, but him being able to go left-on-left right away, it looks like he’s been doing that his whole life.”

Batting .280/.342/.459 with 12 doubles and nine home runs in 241 plate appearances against left-handers, while batting from the left side, ranks as the biggest surprise to Mullins as well.

“Being that I haven’t done it in 10-plus years,” he said.

“I think the goal was just trying to be competitive out on the field every day and that was the best decision for it and it worked out really well in my favor.”

Mullins might have trouble recognizing himself, considering how the 2019 version went 6-for-64 in April, was optioned to the minors and finished at Double-A Bowie.

“I’d say the amount of confidence I have now compared to two years ago is significantly different,” he said. “Looking back at where I was, I feel like there were certain things that I was continuously worrying about. Trying to be competitive as a switch-hitter was one of them. Just kind of breaking that down, getting rid of it, focusing on one swing, staying with my stronger side, it definitely helped my mindset.”

As prospects keep filtering onto the active roster, growing pains bound to strike them, Mullins can serve as an example to them.

Follow his lead. He knows the way to the other side.

“Those guys can easily look at what I had to deal with in terms of the struggle side of baseball,” he said. “For them to be able to come up and be able to talk to me I feel like is going to be huge for them.”

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