Trey Mancini has done everything he needs in order to become a major league baseball player. At Notre Dame, not a traditional baseball powerhouse, he did well enough to be selected in the eighth round of the 2013 amateur draft. In four minor league seasons since then, he has compiled a .306/.357/.472 slash line.
Mancini’s brief September cameo saw him smack three home runs in five games for the playoff-pushing O’s. And this spring, he has been a stand out in Orioles camp with a .304 average, two home runs, five doubles and eight RBI. Despite this, it’s starting to look like he may still not have a spot in Baltimore any time soon.
The 6-foot-4 Mancini enters the 2017 season as the Orioles number five prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. As an up-and-comer, Mancini has been lauded for his bat speed, ability to hit to all fields and the way he feasts on left-handed pitching. But his detractors are quick to point out his lack of athleticism, slow foot speed and his struggles in the field.
That glove is a problem
It’s first base or bust for Mancini. That’s where he played for the Fighting Irish. That’s been his spot throughout the minors. And that will probably be where he needs to fight for playing time in the big leagues. Over 458 games down on the farm, Mancini never ventured elsewhere. That is going to be a problem if he wants to make it with the O’s.
Chris Davis is entrenched at first base for the foreseeable future as the big slugger’s contract runs through the 2022 season. He does have some position flexibility with major league experience at third base, left field and right field (and pitcher), but there is no reason to mess with something that’s not broken. And if anything, Mancini would be a defensive downgrade at first right now, so there wouldn’t be much merit behind the idea of moving Davis.
Of course, designated hitter is always an option, but it’s not too often that a rookie becomes a team’s every day DH, especially on a roster that includes Mark Trumbo, the defending major league home run leader. Not to mention, manager Buck Showalter likes to use the DH spot as a sort of half-day off for veteran hitters like Adam Jones or Davis when they may be suffering from a mid-summer ailment.
Learning the outfield
The Orioles do have a clear void in the corner outfield spots. Hyun Soo Kim is the assumed starter in left, but his contract expires at the end of the season. And it looks like it will be a battle between Joey Rickard, Seth Smith, Pedro Alvarez and possibly the two Rule Five picks for time in right field. Again, none of them feel like fixtures for that spot at this point in time. Perhaps Mancini could fill in there?
According to the Baltimore Sun, Mancini has not played a competitive inning in the outfield since the summer of 2011 after finishing his freshman year of college. This spring, he has seen 17 innings spread over three games of right field action. In that time he has made one error, three put outs and no assists. That’s a .750 fielding percentage. Certainly not ideal, but it’s the smallest of sample sizes.
Mancini told Press Box last year that he is “definitely capable of playing the outfield”. After playing a game in right field last week, he told the Sun that “It wasn’t as much as a change as I thought. You’re on the same side of the field (as first base), so the angle is pretty similar that you see the batter. You’re just farther away, but your ready position and everything is pretty similar. It felt a lot more comfortable that you would think.”
Those are encouraging words, but his understanding of the position and it’s responsibilities would seem to still be in their infancy. Not to mention, his skill set doesn’t lend itself to being a natural fielder. He has a similar build to Trumbo, and we all remember how “fun” that defensive show was last summer.
One would assume Trumbo will likely still get a few games out there at some point. Do we really need Trumbo-light as well?
The 2017 outlook
Realistically speaking, there are very few openings for a player like Mancini on this version of the Orioles. He has options, so there is no risk of sending him down to triple-A and losing him. He is a very good hitter, but not so good that he demands a starting position right now. He can hit left-handed pitching really well, but no better than Rickard, and the former Rule Five pick is most definitely a better outfielder. And he is blocked at his natural position by Davis, and by Trumbo at DH.
Could he make the Opening Day roster, anyway? Sure. The Orioles have four off days within the first two weeks of the season. That could allow them to carry an additional hitter early on, and Mancini’s ability to hit southpaws and provide power would be a useful tool on the bench.
But if Mancini really is going to make the switch to right field, he needs to be playing every single day, not sitting on the bench. That would mean sending him back down to Norfolk to learn the position inside and out. If he can do that, and return to Baltimore as a serviceable fielder, this gives Showalter the ability to put Davis, Trumbo and Mancini all in the lineup at the same time, which could be a scary proposition for opposing pitchers down the stretch, while also providing respectable defense around the diamond.