Last Saturday, Mychal Givens’ travel U14 baseball club had a guest visitor: Cedric Mullins, showing up to catch a few innings of Saturday baseball. After the game, Givens gathered his kids around to introduce the O’s center fielder and share his backstory as an “undrafted, undersized high schooler who didn’t go to a big college and was once demoted to the minors but overcame those challenges to become a standout outfielder.”
It’s kind of crazy to remember just how far Cedric Mullins has come in his baseball career. A 13th-round draft pick by the Orioles in 2015, the Campbell U. product made his MLB debut on August 10, 2018, appearing in 45 games as a rookie. But in 2019, Mullins’ hitting cratered so badly—he went 6-for-64 (.094, good for a logic-defying -9 OPS+)— that he got demoted all the way down to Double-A Bowie.
For some players, that would have been it: a big-league cup of coffee and some good stories. Not Mullins. Called back up to the Orioles to start the Covid-shortened 2020 season, Mullins made a handful of appearances, going 1-for-13 before getting optioned to Norfolk again. But in mid-August, a sudden injury to Austin Hays (then manning CF) gave Mullins one more opportunity—and he didn’t waste it. The switch-hitting OF hit .291 in 39 games the rest of the year, while flashing an uncanny ability to bunt himself on base, not to mention plus defense in center (he’d save the O’s 6 defensive runs in the short season).
When Mullins showed up to spring training in 2021, two things had changed: one, the centerfield job was his to lose, and two, he had dropped switch-hitting to become a full-time lefty. It was a good call. Out of nowhere, Mullins’ offense exploded. In the first half of 2021, the Orioles’ CF hit .314 with 16 home runs, 16 stolen bases, a mighty .921 OPS, and an invitation to the All-Star Game, to boot. He’d cool off in the second half (.261/.333./.489), but not that much: thwacking 30 home runs while stealing 30 bases, he’d become the Orioles’ first 30/30 player in club history.
In 2022, Mullins crashed back down to earth somewhat, hitting .258 with 16 home runs and a .721 OPS. But he still swiped 34 bases while offering plus defense in center field, making him a 3.8-WAR player for a competitive Orioles team. He also afforded the team incredible value at $716,500 in 2021 pay. In January, MLB ranked him the No. 7 center fielder in baseball right now, and this month, they named him the No. 71 player.
Not bad for a former Fighting Camel.
The question for Mullins in 2023 is, how good can we expect him to be—a solid 3-4-WAR everyday player, or an All-Star?
Since Mullins’ offensive renaissance as a left-handed hitter, he has basically delivered four halves of an MLB season: one stellar (the first half of 2021), and three very good (the second half of 2021 + plus 2022). Here’s what those splits look like, in chart form:
Cedric Mullins’ First and Second Half Splits
It’s worth noting that the three projections we’ve consulted for Mullins in 2023 all track the more average version of Mullins.
- ZiPS: .261 BA, 19 HR, 70 RBI, 28 SB, .744 OPS over 152 games
- Steamer: .250 BA, 19 HR, 65 RBI, 37 SB, .724 OPS over 147 games (both from FanGraphs)
- Marcel: .268 BA, 18 HR, 56 RBI, 26 SB, .766 OPS over 604 plate appearances (from Baseball Reference)
All three projections are in relative agreement as to Mullins’ predicted homers (18-19), and they’re pretty closely grouped in OPS, too. As for speed on the basepaths, ZiPS and Marcel predict 26-28 stolen bases, but with all the pitch clock and enlarged bases shenanigans in play this season, I think Steamer has the right idea by going high (37 projected bags swiped).
The case for the over
Which Cedric Mullins will show up this season? One thing that’ll help draw the line between “very good” and “excellent”: hitting left-handers. In 2022, his splits against lefties weren’t great, a .209 BA with a .579 OPS. In 2021, though, those numbers were a lot closer: .299/.277 (BA) and .931/.788 (OPS).
You better believe Mullins is aware of this. As he explained to MASN’s Roch Kubatko, in the offseason he’s put in lots of work at home simulating at-bats against lefties. “Machine, angles, spin, stuff like that.” If he’s done his homework, he may have closed these gaps in his swing.
The case for the under
The glass half-empty case goes like this: pitchers have figured out the holes, and he still hasn’t closed them. Here are Mullins’ cold zones in 2022. See the pattern?
On balls up-and-in, it was weak contact and a tendency toward pop-ups, a result of being late to the ball. These trends were better in 2021, but there was some evidence of the same issues.
Can Mullins conquer the high-and-inside fastball?
... Well, can he?
One more area of major variation in the predictions, by the way: defense. ZiPS believes Mullins will continue to deliver his usual solid defense in center (8.9 runs above average), but Steamer predicts he’ll bring negative value on D (-0.9 RAA). That’s a huge split! We’ve seen no evidence thus far of Mullins losing a step, so I’m a little miffed at Steamer’s skepticism. Prove ‘em wrong, Ced!
Will Cedric Mullins return to his 2021 All-Star form? Vote in the poll and sound off in the comments.
Will Cedric Mullins go over or under his Marcel projected .766 OPS in 2023?
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