ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — As the Orioles continue to set the foundation of their rebuild, all signs point to the team shifting their outfield configuration within the next several days, moving longtime center fielder Adam Jones to right field to allow prospect Cedric Mullins to be groomed as the team’s potential center fielder of the future.
For the first time, Jones shagged fly balls in right field during batting practice, working with outfield coach Wayne Kirby, before the Orioles’ series opener Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. He’s expected to receive a few days to get adjusted there before the Orioles officially make a position move.
Coming off the field before Tuesday’s game, Jones said he was just getting in some work in right field.
The contract of Mullins, who was out of the starting lineup at Triple-A Norfolk on Tuesday with an illness, is expected to be selected before the end of the week.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said that while a roster move might come soon, it likely wouldn’t be during the Orioles’ road series in Tampa Bay. The Orioles return home Friday for a three-day, four-game weekend series against the Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards.
“[Executive vice president] Dan [Duquette] and I talked some yesterday and again today,” Showalter said before Tuesday’s game, “and there are some things that we could potentially be doing in the near future, but it’s not today, and I don’t think before we get home from the road trip. There’s some stuff that he’s considering.”
Jones — the Orioles’ longest-tenured player — has been a fixture in center field. He’s been the starter there since 2008 and has won four Gold Glove awards, leading the American League in outfield assists by a center fielder three times.
But this season, an Orioles team that was built on strong defense during its playoff seasons in 2012, 2014 and 2016 has taken a major step back defensively. The Orioles rank last in the majors with minus-86 defensive runs saved, and the team’s outfield also ranks last defensively with minus-36 runs saved. Jones’ minus-17 defensive runs saved are the worst of his career, though some of that figure could be exaggerated by some poor defensive play at the corner outfield spots that flank him.
Jones will become a free agent after this season, and the Orioles worked to trade him to the Philadelphia Phillies before last month’s nonwaiver trade deadline. But as a veteran with 10 years of service time that includes as least five with the same team, Jones had the right to veto any trade, and he told the club he wasn’t going to approve a deal.
Still, Duquette said last week that the Orioles will move forward playing younger players, putting Jones’ future in center field over this season’s last two months in question.
Mullins has been knocking on the door for a while. The speedy switch hitter is batting .288/.346/.465 with 48 extra-base hits (29 doubles, eight triples and 11 homers) and 46 RBIs while being successful on 21 of 22 stolen-base attempts in 108 games between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk.
Mullins, 23, is also regarded as a plus defender in center field, so the Orioles would like to see how he can adjust to playing the position in the big leagues.
Also, Mullins can potentially add a spark with his speed, giving the Orioles a defender who can cover ground, run the bases, bunt and eventually be a leadoff hitter.
The addition of Mullins could mark the first of several position player call-ups over the final two months of the season as the Orioles attempt to evaluate the big league readiness of their high-level prospects.