SARASOTA, Fla.—It was an unusual spot for Cedric Mullins. He was batting leadoff, which wasn’t different, but manager Brandon Hyde played the 24-year-old in left field on Thursday.
Mullins had started one game in the major leagues there. It was last Sept. 30, and only for an inning in Adam Jones’ final game with the Orioles. He also played two games for Double-A Bowie there a year ago.
“It didn’t feel too off,” Mullins said. “I’ve had some games in left field in previous years, so it’s just a matter of making that quick adjustment, which way the ball travels and where to position myself.”
Mullins led off the bottom of the first with a home run, his second of the spring in a 7-6 loss to the Minnesota Twins. He was 1-for-4 and is hitting .152 with two home runs and three RBIs.
“I feel pretty good. I’m seeing the ball really well. I’m having really good at-bats,” Mullins said. “The results are what they are. As long as I’m putting the ball in play, that tells me that I’m seeing the ball well. Thinking of the negative can hinder performance.”
When Mike Elias was appointed general manager, he wrote to season ticket-holders, mentioning Mullins as one of the keys the team could build around.
Mullins came to the Orioles on Aug. 10, and the switch-hitter hit .235 with four home runs and 11 RBIs — showing the Orioles enough to think he could be their everyday center fielder.
That could change because of Austin Hays’ hot spring. Hays, who was a teammate of Mullins for Double-A Bowie in 2017 and 2018, is hitting .364 this spring with four homers and 12 RBIs.
Even though Mullins played regularly in the final weeks of the 2018 season, he knew that a job wasn’t guaranteed and that there would be competition for positions.
“I felt like that coming in,” Mullins said. “I had my time where I played center every day last .year. I had my ups and my downs, so to come in and try to make a strong impression whether it be offensively, defensively or both in the same day…and that’s all I’m trying to do.”
The Orioles have cut two promising outfielders, Yusniel Diaz and DJ Stewart, as well as Ryan McKenna, who’s probably heading back to Bowie this season.
Only Trey Mancini in left seems to be set, and he might be playing some first base. Besides Hays and Mullins, there’s Joey Rickard, Anthony Santander, Dwight Smith Jr., Eric Young Jr. and a swingman, Drew Jackson, who has gotten some time in center.
“You just have to control what you can control,” Mullins said. “Just go out there and continue to work hard. The work that you put in hasn’t gone unnoticed.”
Hyde says he’s been pleased by what he’s seen from Mullins this spring.
“I like Cedric’s at-bats,” Hyde said. “He’s got a lot of tools. He can bunt on you. He can run. He can pop one like he did today. He’s got some nice pull power, from the left-side, especially.”
Hyde, who says he’ll play Mullins in both center and left during the rest of the spring, wants to build a team that’s strong on defense, and Mullins buys into that.
“We’ve been told that defensively is going to be the thing that we’re going to be known for,” Mullins said. “He’s going to put the best defensive team out there, regardless of who it might be, just trying to make the most of the opportunity.”
Hyde thinks Mullins is a well-rounded player.
“I just like his game,” Hyde said. “For me, it’s just experience and confidence, continue to throw him out there. I usually get him an extra [at-bat] when he starts, just to continue to feel confident at the plate. “
Mullins says he likes having the other young outfielders in camp.
“We pick each other up every day, and it’s awesome to see how much success, regardless of what their year may have looked like the year before or in previous years,” Mullins said. “I feed off their energy and go out and play hard.”
Mullins learned a lot from playing his weeks with the Orioles.
“My time in the bigs last year taught me a lot,” Mullins said. ”Knowing that I was going to have to come in this year and battle for a spot, that just fueled the fire, going out and showing what I can do.”
Last year, Mullins stole 21 bases for the Baysox and Tides, getting thrown out just once. With the Orioles, Mullins stole just two of five times, but hasn’t attempted to steal a base this spring.
Mullins has been told to be aggressive, and that means running from first to third or from second to home on a single.
“’Make things happen on the bases,” Hyde said. “He’s done that for the most part.”
Mullins likes what he’s heard.
“Especially when you get on base, there are going to be plenty of opportunities to take bases, and I think I’ve improved on that this spring,” Mullins said.
“It just means that I don’t have to hold back. There are certain aspects of my game that are different from others, and I’m able to show that, a little bit of pop here and there, able to steal a bag and just being a guy who can help manufacture runs…I don’t think I need the results to show that I’m having quality at-bats.”