BOWIE — It’s not where you’d expect him to be doing it considering where his season started, but look hard enough at what Orioles Opening Day center fielder Cedric Mullins did in the playoff opener Wednesday for Double-A Bowie, and it all looked vaguely familiar.
He floated under balls that looked far out of his range, doubled over the center field wall, stole a base, and forced a throwing error. It’s a long way from where he started this season, but it’s not lost on him that it’s where his breakout started back in 2017.
Mullins is going back to that point — and watching everything else he can get his hands on — in an effort to try and fix the offensive woes that got him demoted twice this year.
“I went back to my first time in Double-A,” Mullins said. “We’re talking about 2017. I went back as far as that to see some things that I was doing that I might not have continued to do going forward, and what I was also doing was looking at guys’ swings in the bigs.
“There’s all kinds of video, YouTube, slow-motion videos of guys whose swings are kind of similar to mine in a sense, and just focusing on it. It’s small things, something as simple as making sure that I’m gaining ground in the box to help me stay on different pitches. It’s been showing on the field.”
Mullins’ productive start to the playoffs came after his first good month of the season, at least relative to what preceded it.
He hit .091 with a .337 OPS in three weeks in the majors and was demoted to Triple-A Norfolk, where his struggles continued. He hit .205 with a .578 OPS and was sent back to Bowie at the All-Star break.
“It was a sense where I wanted to just figure things out on my own, but at the same time, that wasn’t going to help me out in the long-run,” Mullins said. "I continued to talk to people throughout the process of failure, basically. That was the first time that I’ve dealt with failure to this extent. The goal of that is to learn from it and not deal with it ever again.”
Mullins hit .271 with a .743 OPS at Bowie, and credits all that analysis for helping.
“I think just basically breaking down everything that has happened, going back and dissecting my swing and seeing some things that I can possibly change,” he said. “I’ve made some adjustments that are starting to pay off. It’s good to know that I can have this success I’m having going into the offseason, to continue to keep that stride and work on being stronger and just getting after it.”
The adjustments weren’t necessarily to correct things he’d meant to change in the first place, but that had subtly put him in a bad position over time.
“I don’t necessarily feel different, but I know there were changes along the way,” Mullins said. “Not that I can point them out per se in terms of mentality and approach. They all feel the exact same. I continue to put in my work in the cage. I think it was just a matter of not catching those small things that will lead to bad body movements within the box. I’ve gotten a lot more aggressive on the bases, just trying to bring all aspects of the game back.”
Mullins’ 20 steals in a half-season at Bowie gave him his first 30-steal season in the minors since his full-season debut back in 2016. But the overall upswing made it easier to allow all of the advice and instruction, both from outside and from within, to take hold.
“You’ve got to take things one step at a time, one day at a time — take one positive thing out of each day until you start getting your stride back,” Mullins said. “I think that was the toughest part for me. I’d have a good day, but I could still look back at the numbers, and overall, it was still a bad year. Just kind of throwing the past to the side and saying, ‘OK, how can I continue to progress to keep improving going forward?’"
The improvement made Mullins a fixture in center field and left field for a Bowie team that won the second-half title in the Eastern League’s Western Division. It also added another strong defender to an outfield that already included Ryan McKenna, Yusniel Diaz, and TJ Nichting for manager Buck Britton.
“He’s been exciting since he’s been down here, and the thing I’m most impressed with is how he handled it,” Britton said. “Going from being the Opening Day center fielder in the big leagues to Double-A, that’s a shot at the ego. He didn’t pout over it. He’s a high-character kid, obviously. He’s been a leader down here and he’s helped these other players out a lot.”
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said Thursday that the team hadn’t discussed if anyone would be added from Bowie when the Baysox season ended, but Mullins is simply glad to have the good feelings of the playoff run to carry him into the offseason.
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“It gives me a feeling that I was able to contribute and help with this run, and I’ve been able to help the team,” he said. “Coming in, I had no idea what the situation was, but at the time, they were like, ‘We’ve really got a shot to do this. Just stay focused. Don’t change anything about your game, and just continue to play hard.’ Sure enough, here we are.”