The Orioles started the season 3-0, but since then, they have only won one out of their last six. Right now, as is always the case when a team is slumping, the offense and pitching look terrible. However, there has been one consistent bright spot through the first nine games of the season and that is Cedric Mullins.
Mullins’ slash line is .459/.512/.676/.1188. He has a 0.8 WAR, which is good for 5th amongst all MLB position players. He has played good defense to go along with that great hitting. This follows up a 2020 season where he had a 0.6 WAR and a decent slash line of .271/.315/.407/.723 in 153 plate appearances. Last year saw Mullins have a lot of bunt hits and those hits helped drive that OPS. If not for them, his OPS would have been well under .700. That’s not to say you take those hits away but you do have to question how repeatable that skill really is over time. He certainly has the speed and technique to keep it up, but will the defense play him differently and take that away? And, conversely, if they do that will it make it easier for him to get more traditional base hits?
The question is, are his last 200-ish at bats a sign that he has turned a corner or is he just on a hot streak and will fade off? He obviously won’t hit .459 and his current .593 BABIP is absurd but can he settle into a regular everyday centerfielder? I haven’t been a believer in Mullins at any point in his career, even when he was having solid minor league seasons at the appropriate ages. When he first came up, I saw a guy who showed very little power, not much ability to take a walk and I thought his defense was overrated.
His 2019 season was a disaster. In a year where everyone had a good year in AAA, he had a .648 OPS. His stint in the majors, which only lasted 74 plate appearances resulted in a slash line of .094/.181/.156/.337. His wRC+ was -10. For me personally, that took him from a player I doubted to one I just wrote off. I thought of him as a player who was 25+ years too late in his career. A guy who maybe could have stuck on a roster with the way the game used to be played, where speed was prioritized and teams had five and six offensive players on the bench.
However, he looks like a different player now. He is showing a little more power, his defense looks better and his mindset and outlook seems to be very confident. He has given up switch hitting and perhaps that will be a help as well. I entered this year saying Austin Hays should get the starts in CF but for right now (even when Hays comes off the IL), Mullins should play in CF every day until he proves otherwise. Ryan Mountcastle looks bad defensively early on (although I think he can at least be a below average to average left fielder eventually). Yusniel Diaz figures to be up by June but a lot can happen by then.
The Orioles are deep in the OF but none of them are sure things and/or have availability issues and Mullins can take advantage of that. I will remain skeptical on him for now and I still believe he is a 4th or 5th outfielder long term but he has earned the chance to prove me (and many others) wrong in sharing that opinion. He has good speed and speed is an undervalued and underutilized skill in the game today. If he can keep his OPS up over .720-ish, play very good defense and bring that speed to the ballpark every day, he can be a valuable player who isn’t making a lot of money.
We obviously have to wait and see on him and not judge him based on the current sampling of games but it’s an encouraging start and that has to bring him a lot of confidence.
We will see how much that can carry over as the season goes on.