Cedric Mullins finally got what he deserved all along.
The Orioles’ breakout center fielder, who wasn’t voted an All-Star starter by the fans despite posting the best season of any American League outfielder, was named to the starting lineup this afternoon by AL manager Kevin Cash of the Rays. Mullins will play center field and bat ninth, filling in for Mike Trout, who was voted in as a starter but is on the injured list with a strained calf.
It’s a well-earned assignment for Mullins, whose incredible, out-of-nowhere dominance has provided one of the biggest thrills of a dismal 2021 Orioles season. Mullins leads the AL with 106 hits and ranks fourth with a .314 batting average, and among outfielders specifically, his .921 OPS is second only to the Rangers’ Joey Gallo (.923). FanGraphs tabs Mullins as the most valuable outfielder in the AL this year with a 3.8 WAR so far.
The 5-foot-8 Mullins, not considered a slugger, has erupted for 16 home runs this year (tied with Trey Mancini for the team lead) after swatting just seven in his first three seasons combined. Mullins leads the Orioles in nearly every hitting category of note — hits, average, OBP (.380), SLG (.921), OPS+ (151), total bases (183), runs (49), walks (34), and stolen bases (16) — all while flashing a quality glove at a hugely important defensive position.
It’s been a storybook comeback for Mullins, who just two years ago stumbled through such a horrific season in the majors — 6-for-64 with a .337 OPS in 22 games — that he was demoted to Triple-A Norfolk, where he also performed so terribly that he was bumped down another level to Double-A Bowie. Instead of quietly washing out of baseball, though, Mullins returned to the majors last year like a man possessed, flashing Gold Glove-level defense and hitting well enough to earn everyday playing time. This year, he’s taken the bat to a whole new level after abandoning switch-hitting and swinging exclusively lefty.
Because he’s not a household name, though — and probably also because he plays for the worst team in the league — Mullins didn’t garner enough fan support to win one of the three AL starting outfield spots, which went to Angels superstar Trout, the Yankees’ Aaron Judge, and (somewhat inexplicably) the Blue Jays’ Teoscar Hernandez. Mullins did earn a spot on the team as a reserve, getting voted in by the players last Sunday.
With Trout on the shelf since mid-May, there was a starting spot clearly up for grabs, and Mullins was one of just two center fielders on the All-Star roster along with Rangers rookie Adolis Garcia. Mullins was the obvious choice to step in for Trout, and Cash agreed.
There you have it. All-Star starter Cedric Mullins. What a year it’s been.