Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins is one of the American League’s seven nominees for the Hank Aaron Award, which recognizes each league’s top offensive performer.
That Mullins is in a group that also includes several of the sport’s biggest stars speaks not only to the season he had but also the echelon he has thrust himself into. Mullins, 27, recorded the first 30-homer, 30-steal season in Orioles history and finished in the top 10 in the AL in hits, stolen bases, extra-base hits, and OPS, as well as FanGraphs’ version of WAR and rankings for offensive and base running value. Among the other nominees, only Cleveland Indians third baseman José Ramírez also landed that high in both of those rankings.
Along with Mullins and Ramírez, the AL’s nominees are Los Angeles Angels two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, Toronto Blue Jays phenom Vladimir Guerrero Jr., New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge, Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Pérez and Oakland Athletics first baseman Matt Olson. A panel of Hall of Famers and an online fan vote will determine the winners in each league.
Mullins’ offseason decision to abandon switch-hitting and bat exclusively from the left side paid off splendidly, as he was Baltimore’s most productive and consistent player throughout 2021. He earned their lone All-Star selection, serving as the AL’s starting center fielder, and was unanimously voted Most Valuable Oriole. He led the team in every major offensive category but home runs, with his 30 trailing only rookie Ryan Mountcastle’s 33, and RBIs, a product of batting in the leadoff spot and receiving infrequent run-producing opportunities.
He also opened 2019 as the Orioles’ leadoff man and center fielder, but he spent much of the April overmatched and was demoted to Triple-A. He struggled there, too, and finished the season in Double-A. He managed to crack the Orioles’ Opening Day roster again in 2020, but another slow start landed him at the team’s alternate training site. When he returned, he became one of Baltimore’s most impactful players, building momentum into an offseason where he decided to stop batting from his far-less-productive right side.
Despite having not faced left-handed pitching as a left-handed hitter since he was a teenager, Mullins had the third-most hits off lefties of any left-handed batter and was one of only 11 players in the majors with at least nine left-on-left home runs. That home run tally alone surpassed his major league total from either side of the plate entering 2021.
Mullins’ breakout season, which manager Brandon Hyde described as the best such campaign he’s seen, gives Baltimore a fixture atop their lineup in the years to come. An Oriole has never won the Hank Aaron Award since its introduction in 1999, and although Guerrero is the likely winner this year, similar performances from Mullins could make him a perennial candidate.