Cedric Mullins knew he had some work to do this offseason.
After opening the 2019 season as the starting center fielder with the Orioles, Mullins struggled to make an impact, slashing just .094/.181/.156 with four RBIs in 22 games (74 plate appearances).
The switch-hitter was eventually sent down to Triple-A Norfolk April 22 and slashed .205/.272/.306 before being assigned to Double-A Bowie July 11.
It was a disappointing experience for Mullins, who hopes the worst is behind him.
“It was frustrating at the beginning,” Mullins said at the recent Birdland Caravan in White Marsh, Md. “I’ve been really good at just creating a clean slate going into spring training and [becoming] a better player. It was rough. I think in terms of the entirety of my career, even when I was younger, never had that much failure, so it was humbling, being able to go back to square one and see what created success for the future.”
Mullins, 25, didn’t waste any time getting back to work this offseason. He focused on getting stronger and tweaking his approach at the plate, introducing a leg kick to his swing.
He also worked with private hitting instructor Rick Strickland for two weeks in St. Louis. Strickland has worked with other MLB players, such as Cody Asche and Matt Reynolds, and runs one of the most technologically advanced baseball academies in the Midwest that measures various facets of one’s performance.
Mullins hopes to incorporate some of that technology into improving his performance, which is also a wider goal of the Orioles organization. Mullins is also in a better place mentally.
“I probably put a little more pressure on myself than I needed,” Mullins said. “The game stays the same. It’s just with a bigger crowd. I need to remind myself that and go out there and play my game.”
Mullins still has some hard work ahead of him this spring.
He has fallen behind Austin Hays on the depth chart as the potential everyday center fielder. Hays was called up Sept. 7 and was given a chance to flash. He responded with 21 hits in 68 at-bats (.309) with four home runs and 13 RBIs. Hays also made a few highlight-reel catches that instilled further confidence with manager Brandon Hyde.
“We’ve talked about that you don’t want to put too much stock in September and spring training,” Hyde said of Hays in September. “He’s shown us that he can play center field defense. And really like his at-bats — really competitive every at-bat and hitting the ball from line to line. Like the plate discipline that I didn’t see in spring training. He’s laying off some tough pitches, which is great to see. Making a really strong case that he can play here.”
Mullins is not overly concerned about the depth chart. He is just trying to relax more at the plate and get back to being a productive player. Mullins played some of his best baseball in 2018 with Bowie and Norfolk. He had a slash line of .289/.346/.472 with 12 home runs, 47 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 109 games (443 at-bats) with the two clubs.
This spring, Mullins has already collected two hits and two RBIs in just six at-bats. It’s a good start after last year’s struggles.
“The biggest thing is that I’m not down on myself,” he said. “I’m staying optimistic and that what happened in the past isn’t going to hinder what I do in the present.”
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