Cedric Mullins’ breakout season with the Orioles has earned him another piece of recognition.
Baltimore’s center fielder is one of eight finalists to receive a Silver Slugger award as an American League outfielder. The honor recognizes the top offensive players at each position, with three players awarded as outfielders regardless of whether they played left, right or center.
Five of the other nominees also come out of the AL East, with New York’s Aaron Judge, Boston’s Hunter Renfroe, Tampa Bay’s Randy Arozarena and Toronto’s Teoscar Hernández and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. joining Houston’s Kyle Tucker and Seattle’s Mitch Haniger as Mullins’ competition.
Of the finalists, Mullins, 27, is the only one who predominantly played center field, the most demanding defensively of the three spots. Yet he still ranks among the best the group has to offer on the other side of the ball. Mullins led all candidates in stolen bases and extra-base hits — becoming the first Oriole with 30 home runs and 30 steals in the same season — and was in the top three in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS, as well as advanced, all-encompassing metrics fWAR, wRC+ and wOBA. Despite being on an Orioles team that lost 110 games, he managed to rank fourth in win probability added among nominees.
Mullins, who along with Haniger and teammate Trey Mancini is a finalist for the Players Choice Awards’ Comeback Player Award in the AL, enjoyed his sterling campaign two years after a disastrous one. Anointed as the Orioles’ successor in center field to Adam Jones, Mullins floundered to open the 2019 season and was quickly demoted to Triple-A Norfolk, where his troubles continued to prompt a plummet to Double-A Bowie. Mullins made Baltimore’s Opening Day roster in 2020 but again struggled. He returned to Bowie and the Orioles’ alternate training site having gone 1-for-15 to start the season and 7-for-79 — an .089 average — over the past two years to that point.
But when he returned to Baltimore after a little more than a week, he showed flashes of his all-around potential, hitting for power, bunting for hits and playing dynamic defense in center field. He carried those traits in 2021, expanding on them while making a major alteration to his game: abandoning switch-hitting. In electing to bat exclusively from his natural left side, Mullins made an uncommon but immediately beneficial decision, recording nine hits in the Orioles’ season-opening sweep in Boston.
He rarely endured a cold spell, and certainly no elongated ones, in a first half that made him the AL’s All-Star star in center field as the Orioles’ lone representative. He continued that level of play for much of the second half as he played in all but three of Baltimore’s 162 games. Even with a quiet stretch after he reached the 30-homer and 30-steal marks, Mullins finished the year batting .291 with an .878 OPS.
Mullins, who figures to also be a candidate for a Gold Glove for his defensive prowess, would be the first Oriole to earn a Silver Slugger since Mark Trumbo won as an outfielder in 2016.
The Orioles announced Monday that right-handers Thomas Eshelman and Konner Wade, infielder Pat Valaika, and catcher Austin Wynns elected free agency after each cleared outright waivers. Baltimore has five openings on its 40-man roster, with left-hander Fernando Abad set to become a free agent, as well. In addition to pending free agent Matt Harvey, the Orioles have five other players on the 60-day injured list who will need to be added back onto the 40-man roster.