Orioles outfield prospect Cedric Mullins earned his first major league call-up Friday, making him the first homegrown prospect to debut since the team traded its brightest stars and began a rebuilding process.
Mullins, 23, started in center field, with incumbent Adam Jones, 33, making his first start in right field since before he joined the Orioles ahead of the 2008 season. Mullins said Jones has been in constant contact about the transition and provided his blessing. Just as Mullins was taken to his locker to meet with the local media, Jones walked through the clubhouse and gave him a hug to welcome him.
“It’s huge,” Mullins said. “Coming from a guy with 10 years under his belt, being a huge veteran, a huge team leader for all these years, being in direct contact with him for a huge moment in both of our careers, it’s been amazing. … He’s been very supportive with me playing center field. We’ve had a lot of contact about it, with him just kind of guiding me through that process.”
Mullins hadn’t played since Sunday at Triple-A Norfolk because of illness, and said that after the Tides’ game Thursday night, manager Ron Johnson called him into his office and asked how he was feeling. When Mullins said he was feeling good, Johnson told him, “Guess what, you’re going to feel great — you’re going to the bigs.”
“It caught me kind of for surprise,” Mullins said. “I’ve just been taking it all in ever since.”
The moment didn’t prove too big for him Friday—he had a run-scoring double in the second inning and a run-scoring single in the third, scoring from second himself after each hit.
Mullins hit .267 with 25 extra-base hits in 59 games for Norfolk after earning a promotion from Double-A Bowie, where he batted .313 with 23 extra-base hits. Mullins has stolen 21 bases in 22 tries over the two stops, and was the No. 10 prospect in the system in Baseball America’s midseason rankings.
“I love his calmness, I love his breaks, his closing, but that was spring training, which is actually one of the hardest times in baseball to play the outfield,” Showalter said.
Offensively, Showalter has been impressed with the extra-base hits and stolen bases Mullins has compiled in his minor league career.
“You can’t hide talent,” Showalter said. “Sooner or later, as Billy Martin told me one time, try as you may to screw them up, if they’re good, they’re going to be good. Just run him out there and try to create a good environment for him. … It’s fun to watch it through their eyes, and I’m so happy he’s got someone like Adam to be there for him. It had to be the right guy. We think Cedric might be the right guy.”
Mullins, a 13th-round draft pick in 2015 out of Campbell University, will become the 50th player used by the Orioles this season. Showalter said the defensive alignment for Friday’s game, with Mullins in center field and Jones in right field, will be the one they stick with going forward. Showalter didn’t want to compare what the Orioles’ outfield defense could look like compared with the previous setup, which rated as the worst in baseball with -37 defensive runs saved entering Friday, according to FanGraphs. Individually, Jones rated 14th out of 15 center fielders that have played at least 700 innings with -18 DRS and a -15 UZR/150, according to FanGraphs.
“Adam’s a smart guy,” Showalter said. “One thing Adam is, he’s a really good self-evaluator. He calls it the way it is. He’s not afraid and I think it’s a real tribute to him, he’s been talking with Cedric for a while. He knew. The thing that players don’t like is they don’t like something thrown on them in the last second. He and I have been talking about it. It was a matter of when, not if. So, that’s really, I think, a good environment, as far as Adam being here with Cedric, for him to break in.”
Mullins will wear uniform No. 3, according to the Orioles, and will bat ninth Friday in his major league debut. His father is averse to flying, so is driving up from Georgia, but the rest of his family was traveling by plane for Friday’s debut. Mullins said he’ll try to treat it as he does any other game.
“It is hard to do, but talking to all the guys, I’m going to continue to remind myself that it’s a game,” Mullins said. “It’s the same game I’ve been playing for a long time, just a bigger stadium.”
The Orioles also announced Friday that they designated infielder Danny Valencia for assignment to make room for Mullins.