You are forgiven if you didn’t picture Cedric Mullins being a big part of the Orioles’ future after he hit .094 in 74 big-league plate appearances in 2019 and was eventually sent all the way down to Double-A Bowie.
Mullins bounced back by making the big-league club out of summer camp in 2020 … only to be sent to the alternate site shortly thereafter. But he finished 2020 strong, and the rest is history.
The 5-foot-8, 175-pound center fielder hit .291/.360/.518 in 2021 and became the first Oriole ever to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in a season. He earned a Silver Slugger and a ninth-place AL MVP finish.
One thing holding Mullins back from reaching his potential prior to 2021 was his struggles against left-handed pitching. The center fielder had been a switch-hitter throughout his time in pro ball but had consistently put up better numbers hitting from the left side of the plate against right-handed pitching. In fact, he hit just .147 against lefties in the big leagues from 2018-2020. Ahead of spring training in 2021, Mullins made the biggest adjustment of his big-league career in ditching switch-hitting. It worked. He hit .277/.337/.451 against lefties, all as a left-handed hitter.
The Orioles led the Red Sox, 2-1, when Mullins led off the bottom of the eighth inning at Camden Yards May 10. He popped up a Matt Andriese pitch to the shortstop position, but Xander Bogaerts was shifted to the right side of second base and Rafael Devers was playing in at third base to defend against a possible bunt, meaning both had long runs to field the pop-up. Bogaerts got there in time but juggled the ball, fell to the ground and ended up in shallow left field. Devers picked up the ball but was forced to hold it until catcher Christian Vázquez could cover third. Meantime, Mullins was circling the bases. He beat Devers’ throw to Vázquez for a rare pop-up triple.
The attendance for the Orioles’ game against the Blue Jays June 18 was only 13,284, but it sounded like a whole lot more than that. On a night when Mullins T-shirts were handed out to fans at the gate, the center fielder led off the game with a home run against AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray. Then in the eighth inning, Mullins hit a three-run blast to put the finishing touches on a 7-1 Orioles victory. He earned a curtain call for his efforts.
Mullins was initially selected as a reserve outfielder for the American League in the All-Star Game in Denver July 13, but he ended up starting in center field due to Mike Trout’s seasonending calf injury. Mullins went 0-for-2 with a run scored, but we’re pretty sure he should’ve been credited with an infield hit in his second at-bat. Mullins was one of seven players from the AL East in the starting lineup that night. It won’t be the last time he’s mentioned among the best players from the division.
Mullins offered plenty of possibilities for his best catch of the season, including a headlong dive to rob Jonathan Villar and an all-out sprint and slide along the warning track to deny Nelson Cruz. But the winner has to be Mullins’ leaping catch against the right-center field wall to bring back a towering drive by Gary Sanchez at Camden Yards Sept. 15 and take away a two-run homer. After the play, cameras caught Sanchez saying, “Wow.” That was probably an understatement.
Mullins hit five homers in eight games in early September to reach 29 homers on the season, but he remained stuck on that number by going homerless in his next 11 games. He hit his 30th homer against the Rangers Sept. 24, a three-run shot that snuck over the fence in right center at Camden Yards. Mullins received a curtain call when he got back to the dugout, and at the behest of Orioles major league coach Fredi González, he jogged out to center field alone to kick off the next half inning, giving him another opportunity to take in the fans’ appreciation.
Photo Credits: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles
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Originally published Dec. 15, 2021