The friendship began to evolve on the back fields at the spring training complex. Two first basemen taking ground balls during workouts, their careers in vastly different phases. One of them a mentor, acquired for his power at the plate and influence inside the clubhouse, the other an eager young prospect.
Mark Trumbo had joined his fourth organization since his major league debut six years earlier, with the Orioles sending catcher Steve Clevenger to the Mariners in a Dec. 2, 2015 trade. Trumbo led the majors with 47 home runs, won his only Silver Slugger Award and re-signed in January 2017 for $37.5 million guaranteed over three seasons.
Trey Mancini was a former eighth-round draft pick out of Notre Dame who was optioned to the minor league camp and waited until September to get his first call from the Orioles, appearing in five games.
Trumbo hasn’t played since 2019, when he was limited to only 12 games during the first season of the rebuild following a complicated knee surgery the previous summer known as “DeNovo” - a juvenile cartilage implant from a donor that’s packed into a hole in the cartilage.
During the same season that Trumbo was fighting to get back on the field, his days in uniform numbered, Mancini was earning the Most Valuable Oriole award with a .291 average, .899 OPS, 38 doubles, 35 home runs and 97 RBIs. Ideal timing as he became eligible for arbitration and earned a raise from $575,500 to $4.75 million.
They’re together again during baseball’s lockout, working out at a facility in Anaheim. Trumbo, now living in Newport, is wielding his influence again on Mancini, who sold his house in Nashville and moved to Laguna Beach with fiancée Sara Perlman after the season.
“Obviously, Mark and I were very close when we were teammates and he’s stayed very interested in baseball,” Mancini said last week. “He loves watching games, watching guys play, especially ones that he’s friends with, and he’s really good at analyzing swings. I think he’s got a very long career ahead of him in whatever role he’d like to do.
“I think the world of him and there aren’t many people I think more highly of than I do Mark. I feel lucky to be his friend and be working with him on some things this offseason.”
They gather at ProSwingRX with its founder, Dan Koosed, a private hitting instructor since 1990 and a Yankees associate scout who works with players at all levels, exposing them to the video swing analysis that’s sweeping the sport. Former Orioles third baseman Rio Ruiz also is an offseason student.
“(Koosed) and Mark are very much on the same page with everything,” Mancini said, “and they’ve both been helping me a lot.”
Before delving into the reasons why Mancini sought help, there’s the curiosity over how these sessions unfolded with Trumbo. Who initiated it?
“I’m not really sure,” Mancini said, laughing. “I feel like we each almost approached each other.
“Sara and I decided to move out here for the offseason. I didn’t move out there just because Mark was living out here, but it worked out tremendously that he is. I think it just started out, I asked if he knew any hitting facilities and I asked if he’d be open to going with me if I hit sometimes, giving me some pointers or giving me some feedback, and that’s basically how it started.”
“Truthfully, I’ve kept in touch with Trey quite a bit since I was with the club and then through his ordeal,” Trumbo said. “Last year I followed quite a bit and I know where he was at mentally and physically and kind of the toll that it took. He had told me when he and Sara had decided they were going to spend the winter out here and I said that I would do what I could to set him up with some of the things that a ballplayer would need in the offseason, and I think so far it’s worked out really well.”
Mancini missed the 2020 season following his spring diagnosis of Stage 3 colon cancer, appeared in 147 games this summer and batted .255/.326/.432 with 33 doubles, 21 home runs and 71 RBIs. He collected three Comeback Player of the Year awards.
He appreciated the honors, but they didn’t erase those periods when he felt lost at the plate and applied too much pressure on himself to regain his ‘19 form.
“I feel like last year I had all that time off and then I kind of just picked up a bat and started hitting off a tee from where I thought that I had left off, and looking back, there were a lot of things this year going on with my swing,” he said.
“I just never felt too consistent. There were a lot of moving parts, and the more video I watched, especially after the season ended, the more I didn’t really like some things that were going on with my swing. But at the same time, the things we were working on were really difficult to work on in the middle of a season. So during the year, I tried to do the best that I could with what I had and what my swing was, and (former hitting coach) Don Long tremendously helped me with that, too, especially with my approach and things like that. But I kind of knew in the back of my mind that I’d want to make some mechanical and physical adjustments after the season was over, so we’re working on that pretty hard and I’ve already started hitting.
“A week or two ago we already started, which is a little earlier than I normally would in the offseason. I usually start now, but we started two weeks ago, just with a couple sessions, and it’s been awesome stuff.”
Mancini’s ability to hit for power and to every part of the ballpark got him to the majors while the Orioles determined where to play him, the blockage at first base pushing him to the outfield for the first time. But he’s trying to balance how he generates his power and hard contact.
“I think before, basically my whole life, I’ve been really upper-half dominant and my legs don’t really do a ton in my swing,” he said. “It might look like it, but they actually don’t, and I’ve learned a lot more about sequencing. I know that’s a popular buzzword in the hitting community now, but there’s a lot to be said for it, properly using your lower half and then having all of that energy finally transferred to your bat hitting the ball. And I just haven’t been sufficiently using my legs, I feel like.
“These first few times, that’s what we’ve been working on, and there’s a few other habits that I have that I’m also going to be focusing on a lot, but it’s mostly just getting the sequencing of my swing down, which I pretty consistently have already done, and I feel really good about it and pumped. I really do. It’s been awesome stuff. And Mark is a great person to work with. We played together for a long time, we were teammates for a while, and that also helps that he’s familiar with me and what my swing has been and maybe what I want it to be.”
Trumbo invited Mancini to his house before the first session, having perused a bunch of the season statistics. The wheels already were turning.
“I do kind of like to start there and get an idea of where he’s at with some of the advance stuff and where he could be, like a comparable player who might be performing slightly better, figure out what somebody like that might be doing differently than him and if there’s anything that we could gain from looking at that player,” Trumbo said.
“For Trey, I think he does a number of things extremely well, but he does hit the ball on the ground a bit too often to optimize his offensive capabilities, so we talked about that, why that might happen, what pitches he might be the most prone to making outs on or making weak outs. Ultimately, the goal is just to improve the solid contact. I know that everyone’s obsessed with the contact in the air. I think you start with on the line and work upwards.
“For him, it’s taking a lot of those balls that he might pull to the shortstop and trying to turn those into doubles, and if he gets under it slightly more, it’s always going to be gone because he’s got as much power as anyone in baseball. It was something like I was told at a very young age that, and I’m similar to him in some ways, there’s not a lot of money on the ground for us, and the way the game’s going, there’s not really any money on the ground for anybody with the shifts. So I think it’s trying to get him in a place to handle as many pitches as possible and be able to hit them on the nose, and hopefully on the line or in the air.”
Sounds a lot like what the Orioles are preaching in the minors, though, as Trumbo warned, “It’s not one size fits all.”
“Some guys, 80 percent ball in the air probably won’t even send the (outfielder) back,” Trumbo said, “and Trey can catch something at 70-80 percent and it’s 20 rows deep sometimes.”
The meetings in Anaheim will continue through the offseason, which Mancini hopes isn’t extended by the lockout implemented after the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement.
“We’re out here for Super Bowl weekend and I’m planning on heading (to Sarasota) if everything’s good with the CBA,” he said. “I surely hope everything starts on time. If that’s the case, I’ll be out here for a little over two more months.”
Hanging out with a close friend. Seeing how it transforms him as a hitter.
Bringing back memories of that first spring training together.
“The groundball segment of the morning, I think that’s one of the best times to really get to know anybody because there’s plenty of free time,” Trumbo said. “I didn’t know much about him before, just bigger guy that obviously can hit quite a bit. He had just come off a really strong year and was trying to carve a path into the big leagues, and I think in a lot of ways he reminded me a lot of myself. He had the right attitude, was completely willing to listen, about as coachable a guy as you’ll ever hope to have, and just an incredible teammate, and that’s besides all the positive things he brings on the field as far as being a leader and being counted on as a middle of the order bat to produce.”
Trumbo also played an important role in Mancini’s move to a new position, understanding its benefits in relation to the construction of the roster. He just had no way to anticipate what would hit his friend the hardest. The discovery of a malignant tumor, the surgery and six months of chemotherapy treatments.
“One of the things that I think I had somewhat of a part in was trying to get, not only in his ear, but in the coaching staff’s ear about the possibility of him playing some outfield,” Trumbo said. “Despite the fact that neither of us probably will ever rate as plus defenders out there, it was pretty much what I did, too, just to give myself an ability to get more at-bats. I think at the time it probably wasn’t something that he really considered much, but I said, ‘If you can play left and right field, and it doesn’t have to be at a Gold Glove level, obviously, that opens up a world of opportunities not only for you, but the team.’ And those chances are invaluable for a younger player to carve out a path, because his bat is his biggest tool. You just need to find a way to get in there, and when the team was pretty stacked, sometimes it can be hard. But he more than produced, carved out a role for himself and he’s just progressed as well as you’d hope somebody would up until he got dealt one of the worst hands you could probably have, especially that age, with how rare the prevalence is.
“I can’t begin to imagine what was going through his head, but I do know talking to him throughout that time and seeing the way that he was interacting, he kept an incredibly positive attitude. I know that there were worries and doubts and things that were going on behind the scenes, but he did everything he could to continue to show a lot of strength throughout that process, and some vulnerability. But really committed to conquering this thing and getting back to doing what he loves to do on the field.
“One thing I don’t think can be understated is not having a regular offseason to build up the kind of strength that’s needed. I don’t care if it’s just DH. You have to be in pretty tip-top physical shape to post up. It’s not just the games, it’s the pregame stuff and spring training. All those things go into the mix as far as the toll it takes on your body and I think it’s nothing short of remarkable how much he played this year and was able to contribute at a high level. Not necessarily what ‘19 was statistically, but very respectable for the circumstances and something I’ve told him he should really be proud of.”