“That’s been my main goal the whole time — to play good defense. You’re going to have a hard time getting out there if you can’t play too good of defense," Mancini said. "I’ve been working hard on it, and I feel a lot more confident out there whenever I got out there. I feel more like an outfielder than a first baseman who’s out there in the outfield now.”
That’s worked well for the Orioles, who have essentially turned him into an everyday left fielder at the expense of Hyun Soo Kim, and have been rewarded with a .287/.310/.553 batting line to go along with seven home runs and 22 RBIs in 28 games.
But more importantly, by both the eye test and defensive metrics, Mancini is holding his own out there. While defensive metrics like UZR hold little value in small samples like this, he’s slightly above average there, and has posted a zero defensive runs saved in left field. His sojourns in right field haven’t been rated kindly, but he’s been in left field more and according to FanGraphs, has caught 20 of the 22 balls in his zone in left field, while making plays on seven balls out of his zone.
This week in Detroit was a good test for him. Left field is bigger at Comerica Park, but the right-handed Tigers hit the ball to right field more, the team surmised, so Mancini went to left field.
There, especially on Wednesday and Thursday, he dealt with high fly balls that were caught up in the wind and took him to the tight foul corner. He caught Wednesday’s, but didn’t track down the other opportunity. When he’s in there, it’s a matter of trading his bat for speed in the outfield, but where he lined up on that third-inning Jose Iglesias double made it hard for anyone to track down that ball.
On the whole, though, however it looked, Mancini has found a way to make his new position his own and give the team a reason to keep his bat in the lineup.
“He’s embraced it,” manager Buck Showalter said. "We have a good first baseman — two or three of them. He knows that’s where the possibility to get more at-bats are. He’s embracing it. He looks more and more conventional out there. He doesn’t shy away. Trey doesn’t care about how he looks, looking aesthetically pleasing.
"He just wants to catch the ball, hit the ball, and cross the plate. I don’t think he’s really concerned about how — I wish I could come up with a better word than sexy — I don’t think he’s very concerned with how it may present itself. The ball is in my glove, and I’ve thrown it to the right person with a certain amount of velocity. I don’t think he overthinks it too much.”