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From Adam Jones’ heir to Double-A Bowie, Cedric Mullins demoted again to ‘get some positive mojo working’

From Adam Jones’ heir to Double-A Bowie, Cedric Mullins demoted again to ‘get some positive mojo working’
Sarasota,Florida--2/20/19-- Cedric Mullins takes a few practice swings before his live hitting session. Baltimore Orioles Spring Training camp in Sarasota Florida. Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun Staff

Cedric Mullins left Bowie last June as the Orioles’ center fielder of the future, ticketed for Triple-A Norfolk and, two months later, center field at Camden Yards.

That the 24-year-old is back with the Baysox after a second demotion this season at the All-Star break, trying to regain the form that made him so well-regarded in the Orioles’ system, is a stark illustration of how far off course his season and career have gone.

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"It's not a secret to anybody the struggles that he's had," Baysox manager Buck Britton said. "I think our goal when he was sent down here was to try and get an environment together that was going to allow Cedric to be Cedric Mullins.

“To step into center field and kind of be dubbed the new center fielder after Adam Jones, a guy that’s been a staple in Baltimore, those are big shoes to fill. I think he maybe tried to do a little too much instead of staying within himself. Hopefully, this can be a time for him to stay within himself, take a deep breath and get back to being Cedric Mullins.”

The version the Orioles saw this year wasn’t anywhere close to the one who came to Baltimore on Aug. 10 to take over center field from Jones, the face of the franchise, or even the one who played himself into a position to do so.

He was a respectable .274 hitter in the minors with sneaky power and speed when he arrived in Baltimore, though it was always a career of soaring highs and extended lows. The balance of his results made him the best candidate to replace Jones as the franchise began to phase out the veteran both on and off the field.

Mullins started hot, but cooled in September and ended 2018 batting .235 with a .671 OPS and 13 extra-base hits in 45 big league games. He entered the offseason as the incumbent center fielder who seemed primed to be one of the faces of the Orioles’ rebuild. He kept that distinction even after struggling through most of spring training.

But six hits in 64 at-bats, even with good defense in center field, wasn’t going to cut it. He was sent to Norfolk on April 22, hit .205 with a .578 OPS there, and dropped to Bowie for the start of the second half of the season July 10.

Cedric Mullins of the Orioles catches a fly ball to center field in the bottom of the fourth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on April 14, 2019.
Cedric Mullins of the Orioles catches a fly ball to center field in the bottom of the fourth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on April 14, 2019. (Omar Rawlings/Getty)

Mullins, who declined an interview request in Bowie, had hits in his first six games with the Baysox before going 0-for-4 Wednesday, leaving him batting .267 with four doubles and four steals in his first week.

The staff in Bowie noted that he took the demotion in stride, but his frustration at times was evident on the field. He sliced a ball down the left-field line Tuesday night that stayed fair and was knocked into fair territory when Harrisburg shortstop Luis Garcia tried to catch it, and Mullins only turned it into a double after starting to run out of the box as soon as the ball was ruled fair. He was quick to express some of his displeasure with Wednesday’s strike zone after an 0-for-4 performance with two strikeouts.

When the move was made last week, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde painted it as an opportunity for Mullins to get back on track. Mullins’ longtime friend and teammate Austin Hays is getting work in center field at Norfolk while Mullins is in Bowie, potentially signaling that there’s a new player envisioned as the Orioles’ long-term center fielder, but that was planned in spring training and doesn’t mean Mullins is off the radar.

“Obviously, we still feel really highly about Cedric and his ability,” Hyde said last week. "Now, it’s trying to put him in position to [succeed]. I know he struggled in Triple-A, and you want to see him have success.

“I think sometimes you have to reset. What’s the best place for him to reset right now we feel like is going back down to Double-A and trying to get some positive mojo working and have some success.”

To Britton, who was still a player in the Orioles organization when Mullins was drafted in 2015 and has known him since, there’s a clear style of play for his new outfielder that can thrive at the highest level.

“I think it’s a version of a guy who’s aggressive in everything he does,” Britton said. “One of his big tools is his speed, which allows him to be the defender that he is, which allows him to wreak havoc on the bases. You see him down here already. ... He’s back to the guy that’s not afraid to fail, which is a good place to be for a player, especially a player like him.

"That’s part of his game. He’s going to have to bunt. He’s going to have to steal bases. He’s going to have to find a way to score runs. He’s got a little bit of pop in the bat, but that’s not who Cedric Mullins is. He’s going to be the guy we’ve seen down here the last couple of days.”

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Catcher Austin Wynns was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk into the open roster spot to provide cover behind the plate, as Pedro Severino has been dealing with an illness for the last four days, Hyde said. Left-hander Tanner Scott also joined the team in a taxi squad capacity. ... Infielder Hanser Alberto was scheduled to bat second and play third base after the birth of his second daughter, Hanna, on Wednesday night. ... Right-hander Dylan Bundy (knee tendinitis) has another bullpen session scheduled for Saturday before he can return when he’s eligible to come off the injured list Tuesday, he said.

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