Even though he is officially not even a non-roster player on the major league roster, 22-year-old Mulins has been called over often from minor league camp by Showalter. The skipper has been impressed by Mullins on offense and defense.
“I like more the calmness in the outfield,” Showalter said after Sunday’s game. “For some reason, I was watching him on the line drive that (Russell) Martin hit right at him. He’s just got nice actions everywhere. ... But I like what I’ve seen about his whole game. He’s got a nice future.”
Mullins’ sac fly Sunday in the eighth inning broke a 1-1 tie as the Orioles beat Toronto 2-1 in Dunedin. Yesterday, he showed off his perhaps underestimated pop with an opposite field, two-run homer in the eighth inning off Kimbrel. Mullins got hold of a 93 mph fastball off a closer with a career 1.86 ERA and 256 saves. And he went oppo. Yeah, pretty impressive. (See the video at the bottom of this entry.)
When I was in Florida and interviewed Mullins at minor league camp at Twin Lakes Park, he talked about all the chances to be seen by the brass that he’s gotten in Orioles games.
“It’s exciting,” Mullins said. “Anytime you get called over, you just never know what situation you might get put into. Anytime you can impress the skipper, that is an exciting opportunity.”
What makes Mullins getting all these chances all the more impressive is that he has only played one year of full season minor league ball to this point and that was last year at Single-A Delmarva. where he had a very solid season.
A 13th-round draft pick out of Campbell University in 2015 (No. 403 overall), Mullins filled up the stat sheet for the Shorebirds. He hit .273/.321/.464 with 37 doubles, 10 triples, 14 homers, 79 runs, 55 RBIs and 30 steals. He sure showed a nice speed-power combo, ranking among the South Atlantic League leaders in steals, but he was also tied for second in extra-base hits and second in total bases.
Not bad for a switch-hitting center fielder that stands 5-foot-8 and weighs 175 lbs. Mullins played two seasons at Louisburg (N.C.) College before playing one year at Campbell. As a sophomore at Louisburg, he hit .417 and stole 27 of 27 bases. At Campbell, the Snellville, Ga., native hit a team-high .340 with 59 runs, 34 extra-base hits and 23 steals, and was second-team Big South Conference.
He has shown some pop for the Orioles. He has a triple and the homer off Kimbrel in going 2-for-12 in spring games. He also mashed a homer in a B game versus Pittsburgh off the batter’s eye in center field on a back field at Ed Smith Stadium. The pop is nice, but as a leadoff hitter, speed is what he can truly bring every day.
“That is probably the biggest part of my game,” Mullins said. “Playing center field, speed has to be there for that. Being a leadoff batter, you have to find ways to get on base and if a situation comes where I have to take a bag, speed is a big part of that, as well. It’s just a part of my game that definitely helps me be successful.
“I kind of grew up as a one-two (lineup) guy. At one point early in my college career, I was a three-hole hitter. At Campbell, where there were more guys basically built to hit in that spot, I went back to leadoff, but they didn’t change how my game is played. They said, ‘Hey, if you have a chance to flash a little power here and there, take it. But at the same time, you have to find ways to get on base.’ “
Ranked as the organization’s No. 26 prospect by Baseball America, and certainly now trending up, Mullins is said to be a plus defender with an arm that grades just below average. He knows the importance of glovework.
“I feel like my defensive game is strong,” he said. “I know they are continuously working on my throwing program to make sure the arm continues to build up. But it’s coming along. Of course, I still practice my reads off the bats. Guys in spring training (at big league camp) hit the ball harder and your reactions have to be that much quicker. On the farm, we know defense comes first. That is part of the reason that guys get called over there. When the defense is strong, they give you those opportunities.”
Mullins may start this season at Single-A Frederick, but even a jump to Double-A Bowie is a possibility.
Mullins said he’s been able to show composure in big league games, because “baseball is baseball, even at higher levels.” He’s taken advantage of time with the Orioles to pick the brains of older players and he’s worked closely with outfield coach Wayne Kirby.
Does he have any goals as he moves up this year on the farm?
“Not any set goals in terms of for the long season, but I want to break it down month-by-month,” he said. “There are stolen base goals I have in mind and some thoughts (batting) average-wise. But I definitely have to build on my walks. I have to take it one at-bat at a time and one pitch at a time and hopefully build up to the goals.
“I need to just keep the same mindset. Have to know what my job is out there - I’m a table setter and I have to keep that approach. Get my walks when they are and try to be dangerous on the basepaths. Steal some bases and create opportunities to score runs.”
Showalter compared Mullins recently to another small-in-stature one-time O’s leadoff batter, Don Buford. Not bad to be compared to a player that had a 10-year major league career. And one who was the leadoff hitter for the Orioles teams from 1969 to 1971 that won a combined 318 games and played in three consecutive World Series.
When Mullins takes the field he is almost always the smallest player on the field. But for a long time that has not been a problem for him.
“Growing up my dad would always preach, ‘You might be shorter than the other guys but you have to go out there and play like you are 6-foot-4.’ Now that doesn’t mean go out of your game. It just means your heart is in it,” Mullins said. “You are putting all that you have into it every day and that is just my way of hustling out there.”