I think I am similar to many Orioles fans in that I get a little too excited about hot prospects that come up through Baltimore’s minor league system. Who knows what has made us this way. Maybe it’s knowing that we’ll never compete with the big spenders for top free agent talent, making drafting and developing players necessary. Maybe it’s been years of watching our prospects fail in Baltimore and succeed elsewhere, or be traded away at the deadline for a middling veteran. Maybe someday Mike Elias and company can cure us of this affliction.
In 2018, the prospect that Birdland got excited about, perhaps too excited, was Cedric Mullins. Mullins is a nice story. He didn’t start his professional career as a highly-touted prospect (13th round draft selection), but put up solid numbers in the minors and caught everybody’s attention during last year’s spring training. His promotion to the Orioles in August felt larger than a prospect getting his first taste of big league action on a last place team. When his arrival pushed Adam Jones out of center field, it was a changing of the guard, a sign that a new era of Orioles baseball was beginning. We hoped that he would be the first of many in a wave of talent that will rise to Baltimore in the coming year or so.
That could certainly still happen. But it would benefit Orioles fans to step back and take a sober look at Mullins’ stats and what his scouting reports. While he represented the first wave of the rebuild, he isn’t necessarily going to be the best wave. We also need to keep in mind that the front office who drafted him and the manager who penciled him into center field instead of Jones are gone.
The new regime is undoubtedly already scouting Mullins and the rest of the club’s top prospects. What do they see when they look at Mullins? In 191 plate appearances spanning 45 games as a rookie, he slashed .235/.312/.359 and hit four home runs. Those numbers don’t jump off the page, but he was a 23-year-old who had only two full seasons of minor league ball under his belt.
There were some serious red flags, though. His numbers from the right side of the plate were .156/.296/.156. This is after struggling as a right-handed hitter throughout his time in the minors. As Roch Kubatko points out, the Orioles may need to consider telling him to hit exclusively from the left side if those numbers don’t improve. (For the sake of comparison, Mullins batted .264/.319/.432 from the left side during his short time in the majors.)
Also concerning is the fact that Mullins was only successful in two of his five stolen base attempts after being called up. Speed is a big part of Mullins’ game (77 stolen bases in 377 minor league games) and seeing him struggle was mildly concerning.
While Mike Elias and Brandon Hyde certainly have looked at these red flags, there is also a large body of work that supports his standing as the organization’s number eight prospect entering last season. He is a career .274/.330/.450 hitter in parts of four minor league seasons. His speed and some pop (41 minor league homers) is a sought-after combination. While he displayed a few ball defensively in Baltimore, the reports on his defense are very good. There is a lot to like here.
Most scouting reports say that Mullins falls on the line between solid starter and fourth outfielder. Both of those are useful on a major league team, and his college coach said that his defense was good enough to jump straight from Campbell University as a reserve outfielder. That is his floor. If his skills develop, he could be a plus defender whose power/speed combination make him a nice asset at the top of the lineup.
Scouting reports are not calling Mullins a future All-Star. Orioles fans need to keep that in mind as 2019 progresses. When Mullins was the first prospect called up last season, and replaced none other than Adam Jones in center field, he unfairly became the face of the Great Baltimore Rebuild. That is a heavy burden to carry for a prospect whose ceiling appears to be a solid major league starter.
The 2019 Baltimore Orioles will be all about the future. As we look for anything resembling good news or a glimpse at the next good O’s team, remember to judge Cedric Mullins with a level head. He is a very young player who is still learning at the major league level, with the added challenge of learning from a completely new field staff. Said new staff may think he could benefit from more time at AAA Norfolk. A trip back down doesn’t mean that his career is derailed.
Cedric Mullins is not and will not be the savior of the Orioles. He may just be a pretty good starter if everything goes right for him, and that’s perfectly fine. We’ll just have to find another player to get irrationally excited about.