Sarasota, Fla. — Orioles left fielder Trey Mancini has spent two years and a month in the major leagues, which would only qualify him as a veteran on a team that is trying very hard not to have any.
Pitchers Mychal Givens and Dylan Bundy are in the same situation. Each has spent just three-plus seasons in the majors and carries himself like he has several more, but both also were cast into leadership roles ahead of schedule when the team cleared most of the older pitchers out of their bullpen last summer.
“It just seems like just the other day I was one of the younger guys with no time in, trying to learn every single step of the way what to do and how to become a pro, so now it’s kind of reversed a little bit,” Bundy said. “They look at me as an older guy and I’m like, ‘I’m the same age as you, what are you talking about?’ ”
Apparently, youth is no longer wasted on the young, because all three players said the education they got from their veteran teammates — many since departed — has prepared them well to help mentor the group of young players the organization hopes will form the foundation of its rebuilding effort.
“I think I was extremely lucky that I came up when I did and I got to see how they all led,” Mancini said. “They were all great examples of how to lead. From the second I came in here three years ago as a nonroster invite, I knew just by watching them go about their business and some of the things they told me what needed to be done to be successful at this level and in this organization.
“Now that I have experience, I’m going to try to do the same for some of these guys who haven’t been up here before.”
Givens came up in 2015 to a bullpen that featured premier closer Zack Britton and two of the top late-inning setup men in the game — Darren O’Day and Brad Brach. It took him no time to emerge as an outstanding middle reliever and he has been a mainstay in the late innings ever since.
He credits all of the pitchers who welcomed him that season and smoothed his way into the big leagues.
“We had the good fortune to have a lot of good veteran guys before us,” Givens said. “I had Zack and Brad and Darren and you just learn from them and try to apply that and try to do what’s good for us and what is going to be good for the future and just go with it. … They just taught you how to be a major leaguer.”
There are already young relievers who view Givens the same way. They can see the track record he has developed, even if it’s over a relatively short period of time. And he was there for the rookies after Britton, O’Day and Brach were traded in July.
“He was always a couple steps ahead of me so following him and doing things similar to what he does definitely helps,” said right-hander Jimmy Yacabonis, who was called up six times in the 2018 season. “Even Trey, too, we’re like a couple days apart in age, but he got there the year before me, so when it comes to what to do in some social situations with some of the veterans, or whether it’s how to act or how to dress, he’s there to help me with that stuff, too.”
Bundy made his major league debut in 2012, so it’s easy for the young pitchers to think of him as a veteran, but he’s only 26.
“But it’s fun,’’ Bundy said. “I definitely try to embrace it and just try to help everybody here get better as well as myself.”
Mancini points to Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo as major influences on his career. Jones left for free agency this past winter and remains unsigned. Trumbo is one of the handful of true veterans who remain, but he’s in the last year of his contract.
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“Adam, he really kept me loose,” Mancini said. “He was really good at that and just the way he goes about playing baseball and the way he goes about it every day. He loves doing it. Bottom line, we all have played this game our whole lives and you’ve got to love what you do and he surely loved it. Watching that made the game more fun and made me love it more, too. He’s very influential in that way.
“And then you have Mark, he was next to me at my locker three years ago. We were pretty close then and talked every day. We’re pretty similar people, so that really helped me kind of grow up here pretty quickly, too.”
Trumbo has watched Mancini mature and thinks he’s ready to assume a leadership role, even though he’s only 26. That’s just another sign of the evolution of the sport, which seems to be bringing young prospects up earlier and expecting them to learn quickly how to adapt and produce at the major league level.
“I think of how things are kind of trending,” Trumbo said. “The term ‘veteran’ is probably going to be adjusted from what it was in previous decades, for sure. A veteran might be a three-year guy now, whereas before, at least in my opinion, when I was coming up, that was reserved for guys with eight, nine, 10 years or more. A fifth-year guy when I was breaking in was still a guy who was cutting his teeth. The way things are now, those are guys that are going to be relied a lot more in that category.”
Mancini, Bundy and Givens will have to be, since it’s unlikely that any of the true veterans still in the Orioles clubhouse will still be around when the budding rebuilding project blooms.
No doubt, the lessons that they hand down will be the same ones that helped them achieve success quickly.
“I just take what’s given to me,” Givens said. “Just go out there and have fun. We have a lot of new faces and a lot of younger guys. Just establish what I know and whatever works for them and we’re just going to try to jell together and try to compete and try to just go have fun. I know we didn’t have a good year last year, but we’re trying to show guys, ‘Hey, we’re rebuilding and we’re going to try and come back and hopefully rebuild as quick as possible.’ ”