It’s late February. It’s one of the best times of the year.
Winter is slowly fading into spring. And you know what that means?
Pitchers and catchers report!
In fact, everyone in Major League Baseball has reported to Spring Training by now. The 2021 season kicks off in just a few short weeks and honestly, it couldn’t come fast enough. Even for an Orioles fan.
Everyone — and I mean everyone — thinks the Orioles are going to be bad this year. They’re probably right. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a critical year for some important players within the organization.
Among them? Cedric Mullins.
Mullins’ career arc will depend heavily on how this season goes. Mullins got his first taste of the majors in 2018 but since then, he’s mostly been a replacement level player.
If Mullins is going to reverse that trend and build off the progress he made in 2020, he’s got to turn it on this season. And it starts in Spring Training.
He’s got momentum to build off of. Mullins picked up the pace at the plate in the final month of the season, slashing .286/.310/.464 — all of these are higher than his career numbers.
It’s fair to argue that these numbers are pedestrian. And if we’re being honest, they are. But that’s acceptable if you play stellar defense in center field.
Mullins played in center field in 41 games last season and didn’t make a single error. But as we know, defensive stats go far beyond putouts and errors nowadays, so how did Mullins fair in the advanced stats?
In 298.2 innings in center field, Mullins finished with a UZR of minus-.9 over 150 defensive games. Mullins played far fewer innings in right field (23) but finished with a 34.9 UZR over 150 innings.
Still, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde is excited to see Mullins in center field again. But Mullins isn’t alone in center — second-year outfielder Austin Hays will get a look there too.
“I think we’re going to give both guys a ton of playing time and a lot of at-bats this spring and then we’ll make a decision and see how things kind of shake out toward the end of camp,” Hyde told MASN’s Roch Kubatko. “But right now I just want both guys to get ready to play.
“They’re both going to see a lot of center field time during spring training. I’ll move Austin around a little bit also. They’ll share it for a little while and we’ll go from there.”
The coming season is important for both players, but more so for Mullins. The Orioles have bounced him to the minors before and Mullins has just one more season before he reaches arbitration prior to the 2023 season. He’s running out of time to prove he can be a part of a future contender. We’ve already seen what the O’s will do to arbitration-eligible players on the fringe.
For the Orioles’ sake, let’s hope both Mullins and Hays are able to carve out legitimate roles for themselves moving forward. The O’s outfield is the strongest part of their major league club, and Mullins can be a part of it.