One of the handful of Orioles whose season could be described as a disappointment, centerfielder Cedric Mullins is determined to bounce back in 2024.
Two years ago when he became the first Oriole to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases, Mullins played for a terrible team, one that lost 110 games and had losing streaks of 19 and 14 games.
Two years later, the Orioles nearly doubled their 52 wins in 2021 to 101, but Mullins’ offensive performance lagged.
Including an 0-for-12 postseason, Mullins ended the season hitless in his last 21 at-bats, and was just 2-for-48 overall since September 19th.
In 2021, Mullins played in 159 games. This year, he was in 116, with two nearly four-week stints on the injured list because of right adductor/groin strains.
“Nagging injuries throughout the year definitely hurts performance,” Mullins said after the Game 3 loss to the Texas Rangers in the Divisional Series. “I look back at some of these games, had some hard-hit balls, just couldn’t get nothing to fall, soft liners, hard liners, hard ground balls, couldn’t get nothing going. If you call it a slump, me trying to put [good] at-bats together, I couldn’t get nothing to fall.”
When Mullins suffered his first injury on May 29th, he was hitting .263, five points above where he finished 2022.
Mullins also took advantage of the restrictions on pickoff throws and the larger bases to steal 13 consecutive bases, but stole only six more the rest of the season.
Instead of batting leadoff, as he did in 2021 and 2022, manager Brandon Hyde moved him down in the order. While he hit leadoff in 46 starts, Hyde found that Gunnar Henderson and Adley Rutschman could be more effective on top.
He hit fifth, sixth or seventh in 47 starts with sixth being the optimum place in the order for him (,333 in 19 starts) and fifth the poorest (.117 in 15 starts).
In 2022, Mullins, who had abandoned switch-hitting to bat exclusively left-handed a year earlier, had issues against lefties, hitting only .209, but batted .279 against right-handers. This year, he hit .233 against left-handers and right-handers.
Interestingly, his power numbers were better this season. He hit 15 home runs, one fewer than last year, though he played 40 fewer games and drove in a career-high 74 runs.
While his offense suffered, Mullins was still strong defensively. He had a 1.0 Defensive WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in both 2022 and 2023. Last year, he had nine assists and didn’t make an error. This year, Mullins had four assists and committed three errors.
“I think that health played a part into the lack of consistency, but Ced was a big part of our team,” Hyde said. “He wanted to be out there, and he wasn’t giving indication that he was hurt. Like everybody who was banged up, I know he needed those days off, but he didn’t end the season very well, very strong. Still played great defense, and looked healthy playing defensively, but couldn’t get going offensively there.”
According to MLBTradeRumors, Mullins, who’s two seasons away from free agency, could receive $6.4 million in arbitration for 2024, up from $4.1 million this season.
Many fans had hoped that the Orioles would extend Mullins, but after his weak offense in 2023, that’s not going to happen. His strong defense is important to the team, and while the Orioles could try Colton Cowser in center field next season, he had offensive issues during his trial with the team over the summer.
Cowser hit just .115 (7-for-61), but was helpful during the time when both Mullins and Aaron Hicks were on the injured list.
The Orioles’ first-round draft pick in 2023 was speedy centerfielder Enrique Bradfield Jr., who, like Cowser and Mullins, is a left-handed hitter. Bradfield has played just 25 professional games and only five for High-A Aberdeen.
Bradfield hit a combined .291 at the Florida Complex League, Single-A Delmarva and for the IronBirds, and stole 25 bases in 27 attempts.
His 2024 season will be monitored carefully by the Orioles.
A healthy Mullins can provide a big lift for the Orioles next season, and they’re betting that will happen.
Ciolek leaves Orioles: Brad Ciolek, the Orioles’ director of draft operations, is moving to the Nationals as their director of amateur scouting.
Ciolek was with the Orioles when Mike Elias took over in 2018, and he elevated him to replace Gary Rajsich.
He’ll work for former Orioles scout Danny Haas with Washington.
The Athletic first reported the news and it was confirmed by industry sources.
Notes: Austin Voth, who was 1-2 with a 5.19 earned-run average in 25 games, and catchers Anthony Bemboom and José Godoy have filed for minor league free agency. The Orioles have signed left-handed reliever Luis González to a minor league contract.
Call for questions: I’ll be answering Orioles questions this week. Please email them to: [email protected].