By assigning players to the Arizona Fall League, the Orioles can find at-bats that were missing due to various injuries. For infielder Greg Cullen, it was his hamstring that turned his promotion to Double-A Bowie into a challenge to stay on the field.
Getting on base isn’t an issue when he’s healthy.
Cullen came out of Tuesday’s game with the Mesa Solar Sox due to soreness in his leg, but he received clearance the next day to resume activities. His two stops on the IL with the Baysox limited him to 24 games, and 38 overall including Single-A Delmarva and the Rookie-level Florida Complex League orange team.
The Orioles acquired Cullen and infielder AJ Graffanino from the Braves on Aug. 30, 2020 as the players to be named later for veteran pitcher Tommy Milone. Cullen, a 15th-round pick in the 2018 draft out of Niagara University, registered a .429 OBP this summer over 140 plate appearances, drawing 31 walks and striking out 30 times, to leave his career mark at .393.
It’s just more of the same for Cullen, who slashed .364/.443/.493 in 151 college games. He batted .458/.556/.655 as a junior, his average leading the nation. His OBP ranked second.
Triple-A Norfolk hitting coach Tim Gibbons is getting his first exposure to Cullen with the Solar Sox.
“Greg Cullen is a throwback, man,” Gibbons said. “I love working with Greg Cullen. He’s gritty. He’s like a gritty baseball player, you know? He’s very short to the ball, he does the job on defense, he’s one of the best guys in the clubhouse to have around. He’s made a couple of phenomenal plays at second base, and he’s just a throwback type player.
“He’s a guy who’s going to give you quality at-bats. He’ll spray the ball to all parts of the field. Not a big power guy or anything, but a guy like him, with his repertoire, plays in a lineup. He might not be a three or four hitter, but he’s a guy who can give you quality at-bats. Get on base, runs the bases well and plays good defense, and is just a good guy to have around. So he’s been a pleasure.
“I had never really gotten to spend much time with him before this opportunity here in Mesa, but I have nothing but good things to say about Cullen and the person he is.”
Cullen has been playing second base in the AFL, where he’s made most of his professional starts. He was Niagara’s shortstop and made seven starts at third base with Delmarva.
The Orioles are stockpiling infield prospects and Cullen is just trying to wedge in, with the 2022 season perhaps allowing him to join Gibbons at Norfolk.
Gibbons just completed his first season with the Tides. He was hired as Bowie’s hitting coach in 2020 following six years as director of hitting at Be Elite Sports Training academy in Chicago, but the pandemic forced the cancellation of the minor league season.
The Orioles offered Gibbons the chance to work in the AFL and he was headed to Arizona less than a week after Norfolk’s season ended.
“It was brought to me from within the system,” Gibbons said. “(Director of player development) Matt Blood called me probably in August or end of July and asked if it was something I would be interested in and I jumped at the opportunity and said yes right away. And I’m glad I did because it’s been a great experience. Just getting to work with different players in different organizations and getting feedback on how they’re training and kind of their philosophies and thought processes on player development. And obviously other coaches, as well. So just getting a different perspective and an inside look at how other orgs are running things compared to what we’re doing.
“It’s really cool to see different perspectives on how they’re going about player development. A bunch of the guys I have, they came in with player plans like we do here, so it’s really opened my eyes how other orgs are doing things. I would say that’s probably the best thing about it.”