SARASOTA, Fla. - For Trey Mancini, it has happened pretty fast. At 27 and with 308 major league games under his belt, he’s become one of the leaders of a group of mostly young Orioles. He’s not even eligible for arbitration yet, but he’s eligible and ready to be a leader of this team and help anyone he can in any way he can.
Young players look to him for guidance and older players realize the player they once mentored is now a middle-of-the-order hitter and team leader.
Mancini said in February that he loved the relaxed yet intense atmosphere of this camp under new manager Brandon Hyde. With the camp set to end on Monday, he feels exactly the same.
“I feel great about this team,” he said. “Better than I could have ever expected, honestly. We’ve had a really good camp. The energy that was here in the beginning of camp is still here now. It didn’t fade, and that can tend to happen during spring training, especially as camp winds down. I don’t know if there are dog days in spring training, but if there are, it would be right now. We’ve really kept the pace and it’s been really fun.
“Especially after a tough year last year. It can be easy to come back and not be as energetic as we have been. I feel like there’s been a lot of supporting each other. This has become a close-knit team.”
From the start, the looseness of this camp has served especially younger players very well. They’ve been able to play free of pressure, and players like Chance Sisco, Austin Hays, Yusniel Diaz, Anthony Santander and Joey Rickard are among position players that have showed their tools and talents. Several young pitchers have done the same under the Florida sun.
Starting next Thursday, we find out if that looseness around this team can translate into regular season wins.
“We are hoping it does. We will try to keep this looseness into the season,” Mancini said. “And it shouldn’t be taken the wrong way either, like we are just sitting back chillin’ all the time. You have to have fun to succeed in this game. You should enjoy it. If you are free and easy and relaxed, you play so much better. That can translate into wins.”
Last season, Mancini got off to a slow start and was hitting just .216 at the All-Star break. But he hit .276/.307/.484 with an OPS of .792 in the second half. That was just 34 OPS points under the .826 he posted in 2017, when he finished third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting.
As Mancini begins his third full season as an Oriole, it’s the first with such low expectations and dire predictions for the team.
“You can’t listen to it,” he said. “Whether you are expected to go the World Series or people are predicting a lot of losses, you expect to win every day. If that is not your mindset going into a game, you should be in another line of work. We are going out expecting to compete and do well no matter what any media person or anyone says. We expect a lot out of ourselves.”
The Orioles have played winning baseball at times in the Grapefruit League. But now they are days away from starting the AL schedule. It includes playing within the AL East 16 times in the first 20 games. They open with road series at New York and Toronto.
“There is no such thing as an easy schedule in the majors and certainly not in this division,” said Mancini. “Got to be ready from the get-go. We start out in the Bronx, so we go straight into a hostile environment. But I’m excited to play in that atmosphere. We may have guys with their first major league experience there, so hopefully they soak it all in.”
In 2018, Mancini led the Orioles in home runs (24), triples (3), runs (69), and walks (44), and tied for the team lead in extra-base hits (50). He also tied for the club lead in outfield assists with eight and finished tied for 12th in the AL. His 70 hits after the break ranked tied for the 10th-most in the AL.
Mancini is quick to heap praise on his new manager and said he expects nothing to change with Hyde once the games count for real.
“I think he’ll be the same as he has been here. High energy, preaching aggressiveness. I’m really excited to play for him,” he said.
While he’s keeping a positive outlook, Mancini said that extends to the Orioles future as well. He watched some of the young players we referenced earlier in this story have some big springs.
“I think the future is extremely bright,” he said. “I think fans got a good glimpse of a lot of the guys in spring and they were all really impressive. There was a tone set here. And it was important for those guys to experience that. It’s going to be this way for a while here. It’s been a great month and fans are going to come to get to know some of these young guys better in the future. I think they’ll be playing here for a long time.”