Not long after he was named the Orioles minor league Player of the Year and helped Double-A Bowie win the Eastern League championship last September, first baseman Trey Mancini took on a different but familiar role - that of a student.
He returned to Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., in pursuit of a degree and he got it. Mancini added 24 credits over two offseasons to earn a political science degree from the prestigious university.
Mancini took 18 credits in the offseason after the 2014 season and added six more last fall and winter. Bowie’s playoff run meant he would have to take half-semester courses for credit in classes that began in October and ended in December.
“After I left my junior year, I had promised myself and my family and also the coaches at Notre Dame that I would finish my degree no matter what,” Mancini said. “I think it is easier to do it when you are fresh out of college before you get too far removed from it. It worked out really well and the Orioles were great working with me to let me go back. Graduating from Notre Dame is a dream come true.”
Now with degree in hand, Mancini’s focus returns to the field where he will try to follow up on his tremendous 2015 season. It began at Single-A Frederick and ended with Bowie. Over 136 games, Mancini hit a combined .341/.375/.563 with 43 doubles, six triples, 21 home runs and 89 RBIs between the Keys and Baysox. He led all Orioles minor leaguers in batting average, home runs (21) and RBIs (89).
How does he follow up on that act?
“I won’t just have that in my head to repeat what I did,” he said. “It is a new year, everyone starts at the same place and I have to do it all over again. But not put too much pressure on myself to put up the numbers I did last year. That would be nice, but I need to take it day-by-day rather than having a long-term outlook. I do much better taking it day-by-day, playing hard and taking care of the little things. I have to keep the same mental mindset I’ve had. That is something you can control.”
Mancini’s year-round home is in Winter Haven, Fla., and he has been preparing for the 2016 season for several weeks now.
“I’ve been working on my defense a lot here in Florida,” he said. “Just doing drills I had done during the season to get my footwork better and my hands a little softer. Have been working on my hitting, too, and going hard for a couple of months now. So I feel pretty good at the plate as well.”
Walker on his second half: While fellow O’s first base product Christian Walker had decent stats with 18 homers and 74 RBIs for Triple-A Norfolk last season, it was his second-half power numbers that really stood out. In 206 at-bats after the All-Star break, Walker hit .257 with 13 homers, 44 RBIs and an OPS of .856 for the Tides.
“To be honest, I think I just need to stop putting so much pressure on myself,” he said in a phone interview this week. “Go out and play the game and have fun. I love to play the game. So just get back to that and play the game for the right reasons and have a good time.
“I kind of got to the All-Star break and did a quick reflection of the first half. I just tried to take the pressure off myself. Stop trying to go 4-for-4 with four home runs. Just trust the hard work that I put in and the results were then much better for me.”
Playing in a park where it can be tough to hit homers, Norfolk’s Harbor Park, Walker actually hit 10 homers in 70 games. His slugging percentage last season was much better at home (.479) than on the road (.370).
Walker continues to work to become as complete a player as he can be.
“I want to keep improving on everything,” he said. “I’ve found somewhat of a power stroke the last couple of seasons. I know working on the right things and perfecting it that home runs can be a big part of my game, as well as average. I’m very confident in the offensive player that I am and I’ve worked very hard on it.”