I didn’t want to let the moment pass after Cedric Mullins improbably grabbed a spot on the 2021 American League All-Star team. I couldn’t be happier for the kid. He was selected by the players, and really, those are the best judges of a player’s real value and talent.
With all due respect to the fan voting, it turns this exercise much more into a simple popularity and product knowledge of the fans. And, let’s face it, with Mullins playing in Baltimore on one of the worst five teams in the league, it’s going to take two or three seasons like this for him to win the fan vote.
I called his selection deserving and improbable. And that it is.
I first came across Mullins during spring training in March 2017. He was coming off a very good campaign at Low-A Delmarva in 2016. In 124 games, Mullins had 37 doubles, 10 triples and 14 homers. Mullins knocked in 55 runs and scored an impressive 79 runs. He also stole 30 bases and was only caught six times. His batting line that season was .273/.321/.464.
That day I saw him against the Twins, I saw Mullins leg out a triple. I remember after the game asking then-manager Buck Showalter if in his time of managing against the O’s or with the O’s if he had seen someone in an Oriole uniform who was that fast. I still remember Showalter’s retort.
“Do you know what size shoe that young man wears?” he asked.
The question was so odd. I guessed 15, and Showalter said, “How did you know that?”
A couple days later I did an interview with Mullins and wrote a column where I introduced a lot of PressBox readers to this young outfielder who had caught my eye.
That 2017 season, the Orioles felt that Mullins could bypass High-A and be on the fast track to the big leagues. So he was placed at Double-A Bowie, and that may have hurt Mullins’ development. Because of hamstring injuries, he played just 76 games with the Baysox that year. He hit .265/.319/.460.
In 2018, Mullins started back at Bowie, where he batted .313/.362/.515 in 49 games. That was good enough for him to earn a promotion to Triple-A Norfolk for 60 games. He hit .269/.333/.438.
Remember, this would prove to be the final season at the helm for executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and Showalter. Both were making plans for either life without Adam Jones in 2019, or at the very least life without Jones in center field. Mullins was brought up and his numbers weren’t signaling his readiness for the big leagues.
His slash line after 45 big-league games was .235/.312/.359. Yet with the new regime not making any effort to resign or extend Jones, Mullins went into camp in 2019 with a real shot at being the everyday center fielder.
It’s hard with the eyes of 2021 to remember how inept Mullins was in those first 22 games of the Mike Elias/Brandon Hyde era. Still a switch-hitter, Mullins had perhaps one of the weakest slash lines ever seen in the big leagues: .094/.181/.156 in 22 games.
While the basic numbers at Norfolk didn’t appear horrible, in 66 games for the Tides, Mullins was swimming backward, as evidenced by the club demoting him back to Bowie.
The shortened 2020 season afforded Mullins an opportunity to reprove himself at the big-league level and he did just that, playing in 48 games and batting a respectable .271/.315/.407. His claim to fame in 2020 was his bunting ability, which buoyed that batting average to an acceptable level for someone who can play center as well as he can.
Still, Mullins knew he had to try abandoning his switch-hitting. A natural left-handed batter, Mullins had struggled as a right-handed batter throughout his minor league career. During his brief stays in the big leagues, his switch-hitting shortcomings were exposed. Mullins batted 95 times as a right-handed hitter in the big leagues from 2018-2020. He hit .147 with two extra-base hits and three RBIs.
What can be painfully clear to others can sometimes elude the person in question, who can’t or won’t face facts. When Mullins came to camp this past spring, he declared that his switch-hitting days were over. He would sink or swim from his dominant, left-handed side.
The results have been nothing short of extraordinary. In the last game of the Orioles’ most recent road trip, Mullins drove in the game-tying run as a pinch-hitter and the go-ahead run with a solo homer. With a week to go until the All-Star break, Mullins is hitting .318/.385/.547. He has 101 hits, 15 homers, 32 RBIs, 46 runs scored and 15 stolen bases to boot.
I have been around Orioles baseball for well more than 60 years. I have never seen someone come out of the woods and suddenly appear to be an entirely different player and person.
I’ll tell you this — I’m not sure if Brandon Hyde sees a captaincy as something important on a baseball team, but the confidence level Mullins now plays with has gotten him to the top of the Orioles’ leaderboard.
I, for one, would love to see a player who plays with so much passion be the Orioles’ captain.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox