Orioles manager Buck Showalter makes no secret about who some of his favorite players are in the organization. In press conferences, it has become common for the skipper to heap praise on specific guys, like J.J. Hardy, Ryan Flaherty and Brad Brach among others. It’s sort of his thing. He likes his guys, especially guys that don’t usually receive the widespread recognition of the perennial all-stars on the team. Minor league outfielder Cedric Mullins looks like he may quickly be turning into one of Showalter’s “guys” before even reaching Baltimore.
Let’s start with the basics. Mullins is a 5-foot-8, 175-pound outfielder who will play the entire 2017 season as a 22-year-old. He was a 13th-round draft pick out of Campbell University in 2015 and is currently pegged by MLB Pipeline as the O’s 19th-best prospect, ahead of bigger names like Branden Kline (20), Jason Garcia (22), Aneury Tavarez (24) and D.J. Stewart (25). He throws left-handed and bats switch but, based on available statistics, is more comfortable swinging from the left side.
Mullins spent the entire 2016 season with the single-A Delmarva Shorebirds, where he slashed .273/.321/.464 with 14 home runs, 37 doubles, 10 (TEN!) triples, 55 RBI and 30 stolen bases out of the lead off spot. That’s an impressive line, and it was a marked power improvement over 2015.
In his first taste of professional baseball, Mullins slashed .264/.333/.375 with two home runs, 15 doubles, five triples and 32 RBI over 68 games with the short-season Aberdeen IronBirds in 2015. At the time, this garnered him a scouting report from Baseball Prospectus’ Tucker Blair that said the following, among other things:
“Mullins is a plus CF with moderate barrel control, profiling as a potential regular up the middle. His instincts and athleticism help to play up his game. There is high risk due to his limited experience against advanced competition and reliance on the hit tool actualizing. At the worst, Mullins provides value as a depth option or 4th OF.”
This scouting report isn’t anointing Mullins as a future Hall-of-Famer or even a major league regular, but it does explain that the player has the goods to play center field at a high level and has a floor of being a fourth outfielder. For a 13th-round draft pick, that is phenomenal value.
Buck takes notice
His athleticism and hustle, which Blair also noted in his scouting report, are part of what got Showalter to notice him in Spring Training last year. According to the Baltimore Sun, after watching Mullins take a couple of at-bats against Yovani Gallardo, Showalter added the youngster to the travel roster for a game with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and then gave him a late-game pinch-hit appearance. Mullins took full advantage, knocking in a run and earning a hustle double.
From the Baltimore Sun: “That was an impressive calm at-bat,” Showalter said after the game, dubbing Mullins “Cedric the entertainer." “I saw him two or three at-bats at Gallardo’s game the other day. He’s a guy who catches your attention. He’s a good little player. He’s strong. He can do a lot of things. He’s fun to watch.”
It wasn’t the first time that Showalter had given the young outfielder a little shoutout in the press. In July 2015, again speaking with the Baltimore Sun, the coach referenced Mullins after watching the IronBirds in person.
"I saw Tanner Scott and [DJ] Stewart and Cedric Mullins, a couple other kids I wanted to see. They have a good little club there," Showalter said. "It was a good night."
Ok, this one is more low key, but Mullins is mentioned next to Scott, a left-handed pitcher that can throw over 100 mph, albeit with little control, and Stewart, who was the first round draft pick just a month earlier. At the time, Mullins seemed like a slightly random inclusion. But Showalter was obviously impressed with whatever it was that he saw.
Perhaps, it was this RBI triple from the exact day Showalter was said to of been in attendance?
Now, flash forward to this past December, when Showalter was a guest on 105.7 The Fan’s Hot Stove Show, hosted by Roch Kubatko and Jim Hunter. The trio got into a discussion about players down on the farm that could help the Orioles sometime soon, which led Hunter to ask about Mullins:
Jim: “Now, since Roch brought up Chance (Sisco), I wanna bring up another minor leaguer, because I know you’re fond of him, Cedric Mullins, who had a big year.
Buck: “But tell ‘em why we’re fond of him.”
Jim: “Because he can play.”
Buck: “Well, that’s a good reason. Ya know, we’re in spring training this year, and I don’t know if you remember it, but we lost seven, eight, nine games and I knew it didn’t really mean a whole lot supposedly, but it wasn’t fun. I don’t like walking off the field and the scoreboard saying someone scored more runs than the Orioles. I don’t care if it’s tiddlywinks. And I talked to Brian Graham, our farm director, and said ‘Hey Brian, I want you bring someone over here with a little piss and vinegar…someone with some get up and go, someone who is gonna bring some energy to the game that’s happy to be over here that’s really gonna, ya know, get after it.’ Not that they weren’t, it’s just that they were afraid to make a mistake. He goes “I got just the guy for ya.” We brought Cedric, he’s about 5-8, switch hitter”
Jim: “College kid.”
Buck: “Yeah, like a cricket he’s moving everywhere. He’s got a smile on his face. He’s energetic. He couldn’t believe he was playing in a major league, spring training game. And we put him in there and he lit up the field. I mean, there was energy that came with him and those are things you can’t show in a stat sheet. There was a certain culture change, so to speak, of what was going on with the competition and he was one of those guys you couldn’t take your eyes off of, and he’s the type of guy you don’t sell short and he actually took his time from big league camp, and I thought it really helped him going into the season with a lot of confidence. How many triples he end up having this year, Steve? About 12, 15? And not a triple park. Good defender. Switch hitter. He’s one of those guys that’s under the radar screen. If I keep talking about him, he won’t be.”
Buck with some very nice comments on minor lg OF Cedric Mullins on 105.7 radio show at Dempsey's.— Steve Melewski (@masnSteve) December 1, 2016
“Cedric took off,” Showalter said. “That was impressive. We were like, ‘Really?’ We’re not used to that. He went for it. That was good.”
Mullins is an impressive ballplayer. By all accounts, he can handle centerfield without a problem. He has outstanding instincts, speed and athleticism, not to mention impressive power for such a small player. He is a switch hitter, but his right-handed swing still needs some work. In order to be a legitimate lead off hitter, he will want to cut down on the strikeouts and increase the walks.
However, he is still just 22 years old and will likely make the move up to high-A Fredrick this summer and possibly double-A Bowie before September. There is time to grow and improve. And with Adam Jones entrenched in center field at the major league level, there is no reason to rush Mullins.
According to Blair’s scouting report referenced earlier, Mullins is expected to make his MLB debut in 2019. MLB Pipeline has him set to debut in 2018. Jones’ deal with the O’s runs out at the end of the 2018 season. Is Mullins the clear heir apparent? I won’t go that far.
But, when the 2019 season rolls around, Jones will be 33 years old and perhaps ready to move to a corner outfield spot. Mullins will be 24 and looking for his spot in Baltimore. So, keep an eye on this guy. He could be a name we hear at Camden Yards quite a bit in the near future.