PHOENIX — Little did Trey Mancini know in 2016 that after hitting seven home runs in the first three weeks at Double-A Bowie, his promotion to Triple-A Norfolk would give him a glimpse of his future.
That spring with the Tides, well-regarded hitting prospect and lifelong first baseman Christian Walker was playing left field as a way to get on the field with Chris Davis re-signed to his now-infamous seven-year contract that offseason. The Orioles’ lineup also included the likes of Mark Trumbo and Pedro Álvarez.
The following spring, the Orioles designated Walker for assignment, and Mancini was tasked with the same thing — learn left field to keep a major league role.
"We both kind of went through very similar outfield transitions," Mancini said, though his allowed him to stick with the Orioles.
Mancini became the everyday left fielder by midseason in 2017, and Walker ended up with the Arizona Diamondbacks after being claimed off waivers by three different teams that spring.
He was the MVP of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 2017 while Mancini was establishing himself with the Orioles. Although both have carved out successful major league careers now with Walker establishing himself in Arizona this season, it’s not lost on Walker that Mancini’s career in Baltimore could have been his own.
"There were a lot similar skill-set guys, and only so much room," Walker said. "For whatever reason, they picked Trey — not picked, but he got to fill in those roles and the voids for them. That's who they felt like they wanted.
“I think it worked out good for everybody. A fresh set of eyes and coming over here was arguably one of the better things to happen in my career, just a new start. I think it ended up working out for everybody.”
Walker, a 2012 draftee, and Mancini, a 2013 draftee, were always a level apart coming up through the Orioles system. They both hit though, and when Davis flirted with free agency after the 2015 season, they were the names mentioned as internal replacements.
Mancini had caught up to Walker by that time, and while he didn't know Walker too well at the time, he could see the similarities in their games. Mancini knew Walker's path could be his own.
“I knew it would be a tough transition, and I remember him saying that it’s obviously a lot different from first,” Mancini said. “He was like me — he’d played at first pretty much his whole life, too. I think it gave me an appreciation for how tough it is out there.”
When the Orioles approached Mancini about learning left field in spring training ahead of the 2017 season, Walker was one of the first people he thought of. By then, the Orioles had claimed left-hander Richard Bleier off waivers and designated Walker for assignment.
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Walker bounced to the Atlanta Braves to the Cincinnati Reds to the Diamondbacks. He hit .309 with a .980 OPS and 32 home runs at Triple-A Reno to win the league’s MVP award in 2017, while Mancini hit .293 with 24 home runs in the big leagues.
Arizona yo-yo’ed Walker between the majors and minors in 2018, and now out of minor league options, he’s settled in as the Diamondbacks’ everyday first baseman, batting .254 with 19 home runs. Mancini has been the Orioles’ most consistent hitter this year, batting .287 with 21 home runs.
"The thing is, if you're a good player, you're going to get an opportunity somewhere," Mancini said. "That's what happened for both of us, luckily."
Walker attributes some of his success with the change of scenery.
“The staff from top to bottom did nothing but welcome players,” Walker said."[Manager Torey Lovullo] does a great job of getting us to go out and just trust our instincts, and really believe that we’re out there for a reason, so trust what we’ve got.
“For me, it was just a matter of going and playing. When I got here, [Paul Goldschmidt] was here, so there wasn’t much pressure in terms of ‘I have to show I’m better than Paul Goldschmidt’ because I figured it wouldn’t make a difference regardless. Just a pressure-free environment really helped.”
Around the horn
Designated hitter Mark Trumbo (knee) felt good after getting a hit in four at-bats as the designated hitter for Triple-A Norfolk Tuesday, manager Brandon Hyde said. He did not have a report on how right-hander Nate Karns felt after his two scoreless innings. “Hopefully, those guys can help us here at some point,” Hyde said.