Things can change fast in a year in baseball. Outfielder Cedric Mullins won the Brooks Robinson Award as the Orioles’ 2018 Minor League Player of the Year. Adam Jones moved over to right field that August so that Mullins could take over in center for the parent club.
But in 2019 Mullins lasted just 22 games as the O’s starter in center, was sent down to Triple-A Norfolk in late April and then was demoted to Double-A Bowie in mid-July. He ended the year playing well for the Baysox, both late in the regular season and in the Eastern League playoffs, but that was not what he or the team had in mind on opening day.
Mullins, 25, hit just .094 with the Orioles in 19 games to start the season before he was sent to Norfolk on April 22. With the Tides, the switch-hitter batted .205 in 66 games and was sent to Bowie on July 11. He finished the season with the Baysox, batting .271/.341/.402 with 35 runs and 20 steals in 23 tries over 51 games.
Mullins ended the regular season with a seven-game hitting streak and a 16-game on-base streak. He batted .324 over the last 10 games as Bowie wrapped up a playoff spot.
His bat was finally trending up.
Keith Bodie was one of the Orioles’ minor league staff members who was not offered a 2020 contract. But as hitting coach this year at Bowie, he helped Mullins get his bat going.
“He wasn’t doing what he was doing last year and it wasn’t a surprise he got off to a slow start,” Bodie said of Mullins during the Eastern League playoffs last month. “As soon as he got here, I had three things for him. Things he wasn’t doing that he did the previous year. He bought in right away and began working relentlessly. He was the first one in the cage, and he straightened out his swing.”
So what did they work on?
“His hands were not in a strong position to hit,” said Bodie. “He wasn’t gaining any ground and his back leg was collapsed. So, he’s (now) taller on his backside, he’s gaining ground and his hands are in a position now where he doesn’t have to have a lot of movement when the ball is in flight. He was trying to get his hands going when the ball was in flight and getting beat. So he wasn’t gaining any ground. He had three mechanical things to address, and there were a couple of drills that gave him that feeling and he got back on track.”
During the Eastern League playoffs, Mullins went 12-for-34 (.353) in eight games with two homers, 10 runs, five steals and five RBIs. During their series win over Harrisburg he went 8-for-19 (.421) and scored six runs.
“Just (need to) continue to stay through the ball in my swing and not necessarily pull off,” Mullins said. “My swing has been in and out of the zone pretty quick and I’m starting to get the groove back where I can drive the ball.”
A 13th-round draft pick out of Campbell University in 2015, Mullins signed for a $100,000 bonus. After a strong 2016 season with low Single-A Delmarva, the Orioles skipped him past high Single-A Frederick and he began 2017 with Bowie. At the end of 2017, Baseball America rated him the O’s No. 9 prospect. He was in Baltimore by August of the next season.
Mullins remains on the O’s 40-man roster, along with other young outfielders Austin Hays, Anthony Santander, Dwight Smith Jr. and DJ Stewart. Trey Mancini is there too, along with Mason Williams and Stevie Wilkerson, who is listed as an outfielder. On the farm are Yusniel Diaz, Ryan McKenna and Ryan Mountcastle, who spent some time in left field last year. To say the least, it’s crowded in the outfield.
Mullins now will have to prove he can work his way back to Baltimore. Hays, not Mullins, is now considered the center fielder of the future.
But Bodie said that when Mullins got to Bowie, he saw a player who was not beaten down by his struggles and was ready to work to make it back.
“He’s been fantastic. He’s been great,” Bodie said. “He is a good player and no one has given up on him. He probably took a step backwards to leap ahead. You know, when you get out of whack, that is what a hitting coach is there for. There were things he wasn’t doing, and now he’s swinging well from both sides.”
Bodie said he was sure Mullins can make it back to help the Orioles.
“I have no doubt whatsoever,” Bodie said. “He has power from both sides of the plate and he has bat speed. He’s a high fastball hitter with quick hands. When he gets pitches he can handle, he can drive the ball with authority. He can also beat you with his legs. He can steal a base and can run down balls in the outfield.”
After Trenton beat Bowie in the Eastern League finals, Mullins was asked if he can still be that player who once excited the organization with his combination of speed, defense and some pop.
“Absolutely. No doubt,” he said.