When Buck Showalter was watching Yovani Gallardo get his innings pitching in a High-A minor league game at Twin Lakes Park on the Orioles' day off Monday, he took notice of a 5-foot-8, speedy switch-hitting outfielder named Cedric Mullins.
The Orioles manager wanted a closer look, so he included Mullins – the Orioles' 13th-round pick in last year's draft out of Campbell University – on the team's list of minor leaguers making the trip to Bradenton for the Orioles' Grapefruit League game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field.
As spring training winds down, the number of "JICs," or "just in case" players brought in from minor league camp has increased. Many of them are players the major league staff wants to get a closer look at for down the line, but when these minor leaguers board the buses, there's no guarantee they'll play. If they do, it's an invaluable opportunity to gain recognition.
Sometimes these players go back to minor league camp never to be heard from again. In a case like that of right-hander Mychal Givens, who was a "just in case" player during spring training last year, a player can make the jump to the majors in the same season.
Regardless, it's a dynamic of spring training that often goes unnoticed.
Mullins, who hit .264/.333/.375 in 68 games with Short-A Aberdeen last season, found himself in a unique situation. Mullins got the chance to step to the plate in the ninth inning with two outs and a runner on second base in a two-run game facing left-hander Cory Luebke, a former supplemental first-round pick with 55 major league appearances under his belt.
Showalter said he pulled first baseman Chris Davis back into the dugout to watch Mullins' at-bat in the ninth.
"Take a look at this kid," Showalter told Davis.
At first, Mullins looked overmatched, barely getting a piece of a fastball, fouling it back to the screen. But Mullins' at-bat ended with him slapping a Luebke pitch into left-center field, scoring Christian Walker from second base for an RBI double.
"That was an impressive calm at-bat," Showalter said after the game, dubbing Mullins "Cedric the entertainer." "I saw him two or three at-bats at Gallardo's game the other day. He's a guy who catches your attention. He's a good little player. He's strong. He can do a lot of things. He's fun to watch."