Baltimore Orioles

Two years after his free-fall from majors, former Norfolk Tide Cedric Mullins’ ‘incredible’ progress on display

Two years ago Sunday, Cedric Mullins’ collapse out of the majors was nearing free-fall status. He was 0 for 5 in a matinee loss to Oakland, and halfway through a month that began with him as the Baltimore Orioles’ opening-day center fielder, he found himself back in the minors.

A comeback that began in 2020 has been even more impressive in the first week-plus of the season. And in an Orioles campaign that has gone sideways in a hurry, his continued success is one of the few bright spots.


“He’s playing really well so far,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I’m just so happy for him. I didn’t see him play in ’18, just highlight stuff, but I didn’t see him play. And then in ’19, he got off to the start that he got off to. I just didn’t know what kind of player he was.

“He was really struggling, and you can see the confidence was way down, and just to see the progression from there has been incredible.”


Mullins’ confidence in himself wasn’t the only thing that cratered; as he went down two levels to Double-A Bowie and tried to regain whatever made him a well-regarded prospect years earlier, he was essentially off the Orioles’ radar. Even as he had a good second half in the minors and was on the roster for a team that was low on impact outfielders, Hyde still acted bemused that summer at the mention of Mullins returning as a September call-up.

In 2018, Mullins batted .269 with six homers and 19 RBIs in 60 games with the Triple-A Norfolk Tides. In 2019, he hit just .205 with five homers and 24 RBIs in 66 games for Norfolk.

Mullins made the Orioles’ roster for the July opener in 2020 and endured another slow start to the season, but his return in mid-August after a stint at the Bowie camp brought back the best version of himself. He hit .291 with a .769 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) from that point on, and his decision to ditch switch-hitting in the offseason has his 2021 going even better.

Mullins had hits in all of Baltimore’s first nine games this season, and with his fourth multi-hit game of the season Sunday was batting .459 with a 1.188 OPS — far and away the best output by any Oriole this season.

That success is amplified by his strong start against left-handed pitching, an area where there’s little precedent considering he hadn’t hit left-handed against a lefty since high school. So far, he’s more than holding his own.

Austin Hays’ hamstring injury, along with Mullins’ hot start, meant the Orioles had little choice but to keep him in the lineup against lefty starters Jordan Montgomery of the Yankees and Eduardo Rodríguez of the Red Sox last week. But considering lefties across baseball last year hit .223 with a .670 OPS against same-side pitching, Mullins’ six hits and a walk in 12 plate appearances against lefties represent quite a start.

He never questioned that he’d be able to do it.

“I didn’t necessarily expect to have that much of a struggle,” Mullins said. “I know how much work I’ve put in during the offseason to get adjusted to seeing left-handed pitching. It was just a matter of me continuing to be aggressive on balls in the zone and continuing to see the ball well out of hand.”


Said Hyde: “I am so impressed with his left-on-left, how hard that is to do — decide to go just hit left-handed in the offseason, work on it, have a spring training where you have some at-bats, not a ton, but we tried to give him as many at-bats as we could against left-handed pitching. But to stand in the way he is against these left-handed starters and bullpen guys … it’s been really good.”

Defensively, Mullins has caught all but one ball hit in his direction — a difficult one that bounced off the wall Saturday. Hyde noted that he’s “made so many really good catches look extremely easy so far,” and is playing hard defensively and on the bases.

“I just have been really impressed with his professionalism, of how he handled things two years ago, what he is today, and just how he’s playing the game aggressively — on the bases, defensively,” Hyde said. “I just hope he keeps it going. This guy has got a lot of ability.”


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