Anything above last year's 47 wins would amount to progress for the Orioles, who enter the 2019 season with much more modest ambitions than the club that fell short of its one last crack at contending with its old core.
New executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and the front office plan to use time and resources on the amateur draft (in which the Orioles select first overall), building their analytics and international scouting departments, and revamping the player development system. Even if the major league results don't get much better in the short term as they do that, one thing that can improve are the players themselves.
So in lieu of counting major league wins, this week, we’re counting down five players whose performance in the majors this year can go a long way toward judging the first year of the Elias-Brandon Hyde era of Orioles baseball.
The third on that list is outfielder Cedric Mullins.
Mullins' major league debut was delayed a year after hamstring injuries derailed his 2017 season. But once the Orioles were well out of it in 2018 and their top stars were mostly traded away, Mullins represented the first true prospect to be called up to start the new era. There was plenty of symbolism in Adam Jones ceding center field to Mullins.
What will be fascinating is whether Mullins, 24, can keep that job. His major league debut was a lot like what he showed in the minors. He started out hot, batting .317 with nine extra-base hits in his first 18 games, then batting .187 in September. He's dynamic when he's hitting well, and has the type of speed and ability to lay down a bunt that should make him slump-proof, but Mullins is pretty streaky, and the lows aren't easy to work through in the majors.
That said, defense can help him stick around through that. Mullins has plenty of speed in center field, but some evaluators believe he's best suited for left field, particularly because of his lack of arm strength. As long as Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis are keeping Trey Mancini in left field, he'll be keeping Mullins elsewhere on the field. But Mullins is one of several outfielders who have taken to first base coach Arnie Beyeler's program of daily work in the outfield, with drills designed to work on game-specific situations that emphasize doing things well once or twice and moving on. Former first base coach Wayne Kirby had Mullins meet Kenny Lofton last year in Cleveland, and Mullins took to heart the former All-Star's talk of how he improved his arm strength and defense as he matured in the majors. Mullins will be tasked with doing the same.
Mullins' marker of success this year is going to be consistency. Of course, the Orioles will like the highs to be as high as they have been. Teammates in the minors would marvel over them. What they can't really accept at this point is the depth of his lows. So, whether it's using those bunting skills to jump-start himself, or simply finding a quicker way back to the good feeling that comes when the ball ends up finding outfield grass instead of gloves, Mullins will likely be measured by how long those down stretches are as much as anything.
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That's the case with any young player. He spent a few weeks feasting on pitchers who weren't as familiar with him, then spent a month finding out what happens when major league teams figure out how to pitch a rookie: They keep pitching like that until you make an adjustment. It's Mullins' turn to show he knows what pitchers want to do to him and attack that weakness to close it up. And if he does that, it could show this staff is capable of the types of tweaks and advice to help players stick once they make the majors.