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Orioles outfield prospect Cedric Mullins showing he has his legs back

Cedric Mullins dives back to first base on a pickoff attempt in the Orioles' intrasquad game. Mullins, the Orioles’ 13th-round draft pick in 2015, is trying to earn a big league roster spot after recovering from a hamstring injury last season.
Cedric Mullins dives back to first base on a pickoff attempt in the Orioles' intrasquad game. Mullins, the Orioles’ 13th-round draft pick in 2015, is trying to earn a big league roster spot after recovering from a hamstring injury last season. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

SARASOTA, FLA. — Cedric Mullins knows if he’s going to make his mark this spring, it’s going to be with his legs.

Despite a season last year at Double-A Bowie that made many in the Orioles organization take notice of his tools, Mullins spent the offseason focused on showing the club what he could provide with his speed during his first big league camp.

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“That’s the biggest part of my game, putting the bunt down, being able to chase balls in the gap, being able to steal bases, being able to produce runs,” Mullins said. “That’s the biggest part of my game, and just continuing to learn how to be more productive with my legs is my main focus.”

Last year, Mullins had a remarkable start to the season, posting a 1.090 on-base plus slugging percentage with 10 extra-base hits — four doubles, a triple and a four homers — in his first 14 games with the Baysox before he was sidelined by a hamstring injury.

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He was sidelined for more than six weeks, and missed an additional 2½ weeks in July with the same injury. Mullins, the Orioles’ 13th-round draft pick in 2015, still has a solid season at the proving ground that is the Double-A level — he skipped High-A after playing 2016 at Low-A Delmarva — hitting .265/.319/.460 with 13 homers and 37 RBIs.

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But his numbers also indicated he never really had his legs under him after returning from the first hamstring injury. After stealing 30 bases in 124 games at Delmarva, he was just 9-for-16 in 76 games with Bowie. Mullins also had 10 triples with the Shorebirds, but hit just one with the Baysox.

“It was tough,” Mullins said. “I learned a lot about taking care of my own body. There’s a lot of work that goes into it, and I had to learn the hard way. Just being more prepared going into this season, I should be better prepared.”

When he returned to his native North Carolina for the offseason, Mullins committed to getting his hamstring healthy. He went to a massage specialist whom he said found the root of his problem with the muscle and ways to strengthen it. He hired a speed and agility trainer, as well as a weight trainer, with the focus on strengthening his legs.

“I basically feel normal now, basically back to how I was before the injury,” Mullins said. “I wanted to get rid of that mental lapse of not being able to be explosive out of the gate. I was able to push through that during this offseason with no hesitation on the basepaths or in the outfield. I’m just feeling a lot more explosive.”

Mullins, 23, is showing he’s back to doing what he does best, using his speed to draw attention. For an Orioles team looking to get better with his range in the outfield, Mullins is showing he can cover a lot of ground.

In the Orioles’ road split-squad game against the Philadelphia Phillies on Feb. 24, he was playing deep because the ball had been carrying at Spectrum Field in Clearwater when Jesmuel Valentin hit a shot into right-center.

Orioles reporters Eduardo Encina & Jon Meoli discuss Andrew Cashner pitching in a "simulated" two-inning game. (Eduardo Encina, Baltimore Sun video)

Mullins raced over and made a diving catch, just able to snag the ball on the end of his glove, got back to his feet and threw to first to catch the base runner for an 8-3 double play.

“During BP, you focus on seeing the ball off the bat, just whatever direction, whether you’re chasing it or not just making sure your first step is down,” Mullins said. “That’s the biggest part of be being able to make that catch, my first step has to be on point immediately after the swing. For that one I was surprisingly deeper than I normally play. I am able to more forward and backward with the speed I do have. Just the wind was pushing it back a little bit, and I you’ve got to play the environment.”

In Monday’s Grapefruit League game against the Detroit Tigers, Mullins threw out Jason Krizan at home on Leonys Martin’s single to left, making an accurate throw to Austin Wynns with plenty of time. Speed factored into that play as well.

“Every outfielder’s approach is going to be charging the ball hard, making sure you give yourself the opportunity to make the shortest throw possible,” Mullins said. “So the big thing is getting on it fast and just taking it slow, making sure you receive it well come up and make a clean throw.”

In the ninth inning of the Orioles’ 2-1 Grapefruit League win over Tampa Bay on Wednesday, Mullins made another diving catch, charging forward from his deep position in center field and lunging to take a hit away from Rays catcher Brett Sullivan.

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Orioles manager Buck Showalter recognizes that Mullins’ speed can be a game-changer on defense.

“Your foot speed and quickness allow you to get to the ball quicker than other guys,” Showalter said. “He’ll throw the people he needs to throw out, especially playing from left field.

“There was a play the other day with one of our guys didn’t make that he would have made because he would have gotten to the ball quicker and been a little more accurate. I remember when the play happened, I was asking someone, ‘Do you think Mullins would have made that play?’ And the guy said, ‘Yeah.’ And the guy who didn’t make the play has a little more arm strength.”

Mullins entered Thursday’s Grapefruit League game against the Tampa Bay Rays hitless in nine at bats before hitting a one-out double that started a three-run seventh in the Orioles’ 5-2 win over the Rays. He is 1-for-11 this spring, but he’s drawn three walks and scored four runs.

“In terms of hitting, I’m continuing to focus on just seeing the ball,” Mullins said. “That’s the main thing I’m working on worried about now. How am I seeing the ball? Am I seeing it out of the hand? The swing, it will come naturally after that. For me, it’s just about getting that visual.”

He also made a nice defensive play in that game, coming over from center field to catch a ball in shallow left that minor leaguer Jake Ring misjudged.

Most important for Mullins is that he can say he’s over being hampered by those hamstring problems.

“It’s behind me,” he said.

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