For Orioles outfielder Cedric Mullins, a 2020 season that began with him going 1-for-13 and getting optioned to the alternate site ended with him re-establishing his career while leading the majors in bunt hits.
The .077 batting start reminded us of his .094 start to the 2019 year. That led to his demotion all the way down to Double-A Bowie, and Mullins ended that season playing in the Eastern League playoffs. But that was also the beginning of his road back.
In 48 games last summer he hit .271/.315/.407/.723, which was about league average. He scored 16 runs, went 7-for-9 stealing bases and led the Orioles and Major League Baseball with nine bunt hits. On defense, he recorded five Outs Above Average (OAA), tied for the second-most in the majors by an outfielder, according to Statcast. He tied for fourth on the team in WAR per FanGraphs.com.
“The confidence level definitely went way up (last season),” he said. “It showed me that I can play this game. I do have that ability. It’s just a matter of being consistent, and my offseason approach also included, you know, questioning how I could make that possible at the highest level.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a cocky person, but that was a humbling experience. Having to go back to day one of Double-A and trying to figure out what had led to my success and what adjustments I would need to make. To not only get back to that, but be able to maintain it at the big league level.”
His season included him batting .471 (8-for-17) in the first inning and .471 (8-for-17) with a 0-0 count. He hit .305 against right-handed pitchers .171 against lefties. His season ended with a game when he tripled twice against Toronto, his second career two-triple game. He and Brady Anderson are the only Orioles to ever have multiple games with more than one triple.
Now he returns to Sarasota looking to show he can put up those numbers again.
“In my opinion, I consider each spring training more important than the last,” he said. “For me this year, it’s a matter of showing what I did last year was me as a baseball player. And I’m ready to come back and compete in the same way and battle for a spot.
“The best version of me is someone that is gritty. Someone that is always trying to make something happen on the field. And when I’m able to use my legs, that is when the full me comes out. Able to get the extra-base hit, able to steal bases, bunt and get a base knock that leads to scoring runs. Having exceptional defense out at whatever position I’m playing. So, maintaining my health, and my legs especially, is when the true me can show its true form.”
Mullins hit three homers for the 2020 Orioles. But the one he hit on Sept. 4 off the Yankees’ Michael King went 427 feet and was the longest by any Oriole last season. So he had times when showing pop was a part of his game along with the speed, defense and bunt hits.
“It’s awesome, but I fully expect someone to beat that (distance) this year,” he said with a smile. “Me knowing how to bunt at such an early age, knowing that was going to be a big part of my game. I was never the biggest guy on the field. But had a little pop. That is just kind of how my game has been molded over my career. Being a guy that can create havoc at the plate and on the bases.
“Even though people may not consider bunting and stealing bases a major factor, scoring runs is. At the end of the day, it’s a matter of who scores more runs. And those are contributing factors to my game that can help us get some wins.”