Not only did Orioles outfielder/first baseman Trey Mancini have a great rookie season in 2017 — .293/.338/.488 with 24 homers and 78 RBIs — but he did it under pretty difficult circumstances.
Mancini was not supposed to make the 2017 Orioles out of spring training, especially once the club re-signed Mark Trumbo in January.
There was no room at the inn for a first baseman/designated hitter type, not with Trumbo and Chris Davis getting big bucks to hold down those positions.
Someone within the organization floated the idea to me last winter that maybe Mancini could learn the outfield to keep his bat in the majors, and I dismissed the notion because of the emphasis manager Buck Showalter puts on defense.
Well, it happened. Give credit to Mancini, outfield coach Wayne Kirby and club vice president Brady Anderson for turning Mancini into a serviceable outfielder during spring training.
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Mancini flourished at the plate, seized the left field job from Hyun Soo Kim and became the first Oriole since Daniel Cabrera in 2004 to place in the Top 3 in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.
On Monday, Mancini officially finished third in the race behind unanimous winner Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees and runner-up Andrew Benintendi of the Boston Red Sox.
Benintendi was the seventh pick overall in the 2015 draft and the Rookie of the Year favorite heading into the 2017 season. Judge is also a former first-rounder (32nd overall in 2013), and though he wasn’t expected to explode onto the scene like he did in 2017, the pedigree was there.
Mancini, however, was an eighth-round draft pick in 2013 (249th overall, 217 picks behind Judge). He wasn’t drafted at all out of high school and wasn’t heavily pursued by the top baseball universities in Florida.
He’s worked for everything he’s gotten so far. And that’s why you have to think Mancini isn’t a one-year wonder, and that he should be able to build on his superb season going forward.
Yes, the pressure will be on. He’s not going to sneak up on anyone next year and he’ll be expected to at least duplicate his rookie numbers.
That’s always a difficult task. The sophomore slump is real, and has tarnished many careers.
I asked a couple veteran Orioles at the end of the season if they thought Mancini might fall victim to a sophomore slump. It’s impossible to know for sure, but both said they didn’t think so because of the way Mancini adjusted each time he fell on hard times in 2017.
Remember, Mancini started the season 8-for-22 (.364 average) with four homers and nine RBIs. He then had three hits in his next 29 at-bats (.103 average) to finish April. The season could have unraveled at that point.
But Mancini watched an abundance of video, talked with veterans and worked with hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh on attacking pitchers the way the pitchers had attacked him after his first two weeks of 2017. He stopped worrying about where the ball was going and instead concentrated on putting good swings on each pitch.
In May, Mancini excelled despite homering only two times. He batted .342 for the month, got on-base at a .398 clip and seized everyday playing time. He kept it going in June, when he hit .340 and smashed seven homers.
From that point on, he maintained consistency, and quickly bounced out of any mini-slumps. At the end of June, he went from an eight-game hitting streak to an 0-for-14 skid to another eight-game hitting streak.
He never had four hitless games in a row after that.
It’s that steadiness, one veteran told me, that will serve the 25-year-old Mancini well whenever he gets into a skid next year.
Another veteran pointed out that Mancini should be even better in 2018 because he’ll no longer be learning a position in the big leagues. Now, he’ll just be refining his left field skills instead of trying to figure out the position, and that should allow him to concentrate even more on his offense.
That same veteran told me that the one thing Mancini must be careful of is his tendency to be so hard on himself and, subsequently, press at the plate. He saw some glimpses of that in 2017, and Mancini occasionally needed to be talked off the ledge when things weren’t going as well as the rookie would have liked.
Despite how polite and professional the Notre Dame product is, Mancini has a small chip on his shoulder due to the fact he has always been overlooked. He wants to prove that he belongs and can excel at the highest level, and that drives him every day.
That work ethic, and the fact Mancini had success at every level of his career — something manager Buck Showalter continually pointed out is rare these days with young players — should be major positives for Mancini going forward.
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