SARASOTA, Fla. - He was the Orioles’ Minor League Player of the Year in 2018 and their starting center fielder on opening day in 2019. But in 2020, Cedric Mullins is out to prove he can still play and still be a key part of the O’s future.
In August 2018, Adam Jones moved to right field with Mullins taking over in center with the veteran’s blessing. But Mullins hit just .094 (6-for-64) to start last season and he held the job in center field for just 22 games. After hitting .205 in 66 games at Triple-A Norfolk, he ended the season at Double-A Bowie.
It was quite the fall for a player who once showed such promise.
“It was tough and was a hit on my confidence a bit,” Mullins said in the O’s clubhouse in Sarasota. “The last of the season at Bowie, though, shot it back up. Me introducing some new things to my swing that worked. It was a big deal for me to not go into the offseason with a complete failure of a season. To be able to take that and learn from that, then come back stronger than I did the year before is the goal.”
Mullins hit .271 with Bowie, batting .324 over the regular season’s final 10 games and .353 in the Eastern League playoffs. He put in some solid work with then-Bowie hitting coach Keith Bodie late last season, and then spent a couple of weeks this winter with hitting coach Rick Strickland, who also works with Boston’s Andrew Benintendi.
“I’d say it was kind of a collective thing,” said Mullins. “Bodie taught me certain drills that he was comfortable with and that kind of carried into the winter sessions out west. That was more technology involved. I was set up to the K-vest, the Rapsodo, that stuff. To be able to see how he approached different drills. It was kind of along the same lines.
“Just (trying) to learn how to find the consistent barrel. I was told I was clipping a lot of balls and needed to correct that, and that was what we focused on.”
And in focusing on his confidence and trying to stay upbeat, Mullins was reminded that he would not be the first player to make the majors, struggle and go to the minors and then make it back.
“Exactly. It was brought up to me a lot,” he said. “Some of the greatest to play this game to this day had to go through this. It’s something that a lot of guys have to go through. It’s a matter of how you take it. Continue to get better and prove you can get back to the bigs and stay there.”
I asked him if the last year has put a big chip on his shoulder this spring.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Confidence is back and I’m feeling really comfortable in my own skin. Just a matter of going out there and competing hard.”
Mullins is 3-for-9 (.333) in five spring games with three singles. He is also 3-for-3 stealing bases and has two walks and two RBIs.
His early play in camp drew heavy praise from manager Brandon Hyde.
“You know there is adversity that can happen in a guy’s career, and in different stages of that career,” said Hyde. “Think that is an experience that he will learn from and, hopefully, be better for. He dealt with a lot. Tough first month for us. He went to Triple-A and was still struggling. But the way he ended the year at Double-A was a real positive.
“I thought the attitude he’s come in here with (has been good). He’s put in a ton of work in the offseason. He seems different to me. He seems hungrier. He’s more comfortable. I like the leadership role he’s taking in the outfield. Thought he was really quiet last year. Now more of his personality is coming out, and that means he has more confidence.”
All that offense: The Orioles posted a complete victory in yesterday’s 13-0 win over Pittsburgh. They may not have a win like that the rest of the spring. Six pitchers combined on a four-hit shutout with eight strikeouts.
On offense, Ryan Mountcastle went 3-for-3 with two doubles and a homer. He was one of five players that had multi-hit games and five that drove in more than one run. As a team, the Orioles went 19-for-41 at bat and 6-for-12 with runners in scoring position. They produced six doubles and hit four home runs.
They play the Pirates again today, this time in Bradenton. I’ll broadcast that game on the stream at Orioles.com and MLB At-Bat starting at 1 p.m.
Before Thursday’s game, when he would go on to have such a good day on offense, Mountcastle told me about feeling comfortable on defense in left field in this entry.