Cedric Mullins' first taste of the majors was just as significant to the Orioles as an organization as it was to him, with his Aug. 10 debut signifying a passing of the torch in center field from longtime star Adam Jones and making Mullins the first homegrown prospect to debut since the now-famous rebuild began a month earlier.
What was an exciting start to his big league career, including six multi-hit games with three home runs in his first 18 games, ended slowly for Mullins, who had two hits in the final week of the season to send him home for the winter batting .235 with a .671 OPS.
But before he headed home at the end of the season to break down what can make next year better for him and the Orioles, Mullins said some of the conceptual takeaways from his rookie year are just as valuable as whatever happens in a baseball sense.
"I have the opportunity to be a leader," Mullins said. "It's a role that I've never been necessarily used to, but one I can adapt to. I like to lead by example and play hard, just try to play the game the right way. To be one of the first guys called up to try to create that momentum forward is a big deal for me."
As the leadoff hitter and center fielder, Mullins had those tone-setting roles were foisted on him early. He was supported by Jones and the coaching staff through that transition, and said he picked up plenty from the veterans who weren't traded away about the tricks to succeeding in the majors. Those who have been around awhile like to say everyone in the majors has talent, but that the difference is those who prepare well enough to be able to show it.
Especially early in his time in the majors, Mullins did that, combining at the top of the lineup with Jonathan Villar to give the Orioles speed on the bases that they haven't had in years. Villar stole 21 bases and took an extra base in 47 percent of his chances, and while Mullins stole just two bases in five attempts, he also took an extra base 47 percent of the time — and did whatever it took to get on to spark the rest of the offense.
"I consider it pressure offense," Mullins said. "If you see an opportunity to bunt, make the pitcher work. If he's on a roll, maybe feeling himself up there, maybe it's something that can throw the momentum off. Having a guy on first base could create a whole lot of opportunity for guys behind in the lineup. They might see more fastballs because I'm a base-stealing threat. There's a lot of things they take into account when there's a guy on base."
Skills such as bunting and being able to beat out base hits are the types of things coaches and managers point to as being contributors to shortening and ending slumps, and Mullins, who has been streaky at times in his minor league career, said trying to level out was something he'd take home this offseason.
"I would say that my consistency at the plate has been a lot better this year," Mullins said. "Everyone's going to run into their funks, but to keep them on a shorter basis before you pick it back up, I've been able to maintain that pretty well."
He also started to look comfortable in center field as the season progressed. While he's a plus runner who has tremendous instincts in the outfield, Mullins said there was some evaluation to come on how he'd defended in the majors. He especially seemed to struggle on balls over his head, especially those near the wall where Mullins' speed gets him into the vicinity but not always to the extra right spot. He also had his arm challenged significantly by opposing base runners; both of those could be mitigated by playing deeper, as he'd have less ground to cover over his head and would more often be coming in with momentum on throws.
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"Just a matter of having to pay attention to detail," Mullins said. "Being able to understand guys' swings a lot quicker and adapt to the situation, and just learning the depths that I need to play at. A lot of these guys can hit, and sometimes, you might need to take a step back. You might have an easier chance coming in on a ball versus the one drifting over your head that you might have a shot at, depending on where you're playing."