Mancini hit .328 that first pro season in 2013, earning team MVP honors for short-season Single-A Aberdeen. Since then, he has also hit .300 or better at Single-A Delmarva, Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie. But it was when his power increased, joining his solid bat for average, that he took his game to another level last year.
A real turning point for Mancini in his career may have come before he was drafted. It happened in April 2013 when he was still at Notre Dame. Mancini told us that story during an interview on Thursday night on 105.7 The Fan’s “Hot Stove Show.”
“I was kind of struggling halfway through my junior year,” Mancini remembered. “I think I was letting the fact that the draft was coming up (bother me) and I always thought after my junior year I would get drafted high enough to go. Things were not going exactly as planned and I had missed the previous summer in the Cape Cod League. I kind of took that hard, too.
“Then my coach (Mike Aoki) about halfway through the season saw that I was struggling and just not enjoying it. He talked to me and said, ‘Look, you can’t do this to yourself. You’ve got to just think about now and playing for the team. And just enjoying being out here because you never know when baseball is going to end.’
“So that is what I did. I just went out every day to be the best teammate I could be, honestly as cliched as that sounds. I just tried to help the team win and all the sudden, things turned around and clicked. My second half was definitely much better than the first half.
“That was a huge turning point in my career. Even when I am struggling now, I look back to that moment. And think about just the kind of struggles I put myself through and that is not the way to go.”
Mancini hit .389 that season for the Fighting Irish, but he batted .486 over his last 25 games. He improved his draft stock and his coach’s words meant a lot to him then - and still do today.
Last year, Mancini hit .314 with an OPS of .868 to start the year at Frederick. He moved up to the Eastern League in early June and improved those stats at Bowie, batting .359 with an OPS of .981.
How did he move up a level and face better competition, but also produce better stats?
“I didn’t really change my mental approach going from Frederick to Bowie,” he said. “I struggled a bit my first month at Frederick. I think some of that was physical, I was getting used to a new swing I started during spring training.
“Once I got used to that and mentally kind of honed in, I didn’t think about results as much as the process of doing well and hitting the ball hard. Then I stayed with that the whole year and didn’t change anything at Bowie. I didn’t let the jump really get to me and that helped me out there.”
Mancini has credited some swing and stance adjustments that were suggested to him last spring by Orioles vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson for his big 2015 season. Between Frederick and Bowie, Mancini hit a combined .341/.375/.563 with 43 doubles, six triples, 21 home runs and 89 RBIs in 136 games. He led all Orioles minor leaguers in batting average, home runs and RBIs, and won the Eastern League batting title with an adjusted .330 batting average.
His power increased as he produced 11 more homers in 2015 than the year before and his slugging percentage jumped way up, from .409 to .563.
“I think it was really the new swing and stance I started in spring,” he said. “That really helped me hit the ball out in front of the plate more. I’m standing up tall now and stepping into the ball more and making better contact. I think I used to let the ball get a little deeper (in my stance), almost inside-outed some balls that I could have driven. Now I just think about hitting the ball up the middle of the field and driving it in the gaps. And when things are going well those turn into home runs. The whole new swing was a difference-maker last year.”
With Chris Davis now signed for the next seven years, the question keeps coming up: Will the Orioles ask Mancini to try to play some in the outfield?
“I think that I am athletic enough to do it,” Mancini said. “I played left field before in college summer ball. I know some of the ropes out there. I’m confident I could do it. They have not approached me about it but if they ever did I think I am capable.”
Lucky No. 13: In a ranking of the best first base prospects in the sport, Mancini has been ranked No. 13 by Baseball America.
Draft note: When the Orioles officially signed pitcher Yovani Gallardo, they lost the No. 14 pick in the 2016 First-Year Player Draft. That pick just goes away (not to Texas, his former team) and the first round is currently just 24 selections with the first compensation pick at No. 25. The O’s No. 29 pick that the O’s got for losing Wei-Yin Chen moved up to No. 28 when the O’s lost that No. 14 selection. They would have lost that draft pick for signing outfielder Dexter Fowler, but he stayed with the Cubs, as you may have heard.
There was a report last night that Texas has contacted free agent Ian Desmond, the only remaining player that would cost the team signing him a draft pick. If Texas did sign Desmond, the Rangers would lose the No. 19 pick and the O’s first pick would then move up another spot to No. 27. While that is technically a compensation pick (after the first round), were it to be No. 27, it would be just two selections behind where the Orioles drafted outfielder DJ Stewart in round one last June at No. 25.
The Orioles currently hold five of the top 91 picks with selections at Nos. 28, 54, 69, 76 and 91 for the draft next June.
TV O’s talk: I’ll be joining Mark Viviano and Dave Johnson today to talk about the Orioles on “Wall to Wall Baseball” on MASN at 11 a.m.