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Mullins trying to “get some positive mojo working” at Double-A Bowie

Posted on 12 July 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Eleven months after making his major league debut as the potential heir apparent to former Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, Cedric Mullins is back in Double-A baseball.

The Opening Day center fielder was assigned to the Bowie Baysox Thursday after a nightmare first half in which he was demoted from the majors in late April and batted just .205 with a .578 on-base plus slugging percentage in 306 plate appearances at Triple-A Norfolk. Mullins, 24, went 6-for-64 to begin the season with the Orioles, which followed a poor spring training in which he collected only eight hits in 53 at-bats in the Grapefruit League.

The switch-hitting Mullins batted .187 with a .512 OPS in 119 plate appearances last September, meaning he hasn’t enjoyed much prosperity in a long time.

“I just think he needs to get on track somehow,” said manager Brandon Hyde as the Orioles resumed the second half of the season Friday. “I think guys sometimes have tough years, and obviously we still feel really highly about Cedric and his ability. Now, it’s trying to put him in position to [succeed]. I know he struggled in Triple-A, and you want to see him have success.”

As Jones moved to right field for the first time in his Orioles career last August, Mullins was called up and batted .317 with nine extra-base hits, six runs batted in, and a stout .941 on-base plus slugging percentage in his first 72 plate appearances, looking the part of the center fielder of the future. Questions had persisted about his ability to hit from the right side long before he reached the majors, but Mullins batted just .186 with a .528 OPS against right-handed pitching in the International League in the first half of 2019 while batting a more respectable .257 with a .709 OPS against lefties, making it more difficult to know what to make of his statistical collapse.

Mullins batted .269 with 26 extra-base hits and a .771 OPS in 269 plate appearances for the Tides last season, which makes his 2019 Triple-A struggles that much more alarming.

“There have been a lot of instances where guys go down — and go down multiple levels — and in a year or two, they’re much, much better players,” Hyde said. “That’s just part of the development process a little bit at times. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s hard to do, but Roy Halladay went down to high A at one point in his career.

“I think sometimes you have to reset. What’s the best place for him to reset right now we feel like is going back down to Double-A and trying to get some positive mojo working and have some success.”

Entering 2019, the future in center field appeared bright between Mullins and prospect Austin Hays, but injuries limited the latter to 39 games in the first half of the season after an injury-plagued 2018. Hays, 24, is healthy now and serving as the everyday center field for the Tides with Mullins playing at Bowie.

Despite playing only the corner outfield spots in the minors, Anthony Santander was starting his second career game in center for the Orioles Friday night. He became the sixth Orioles player to start a game in center this season last Friday, joining Mullins, Stevie Wilkerson, Keon Broxton, and former Orioles Drew Jackson and Joey Rickard.

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Baltimore Orioles' Stevie Wilkerson follows through on a solo home run against the Los Angeles Angels in the second inning of a baseball game, Sunday, May 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Twelve Orioles thoughts moving toward Memorial Day weekend

Posted on 21 May 2019 by Luke Jones

With the last-place Orioles limping into late May, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. We know the Orioles lack the talent to win, but the growing frequency of “ugly” losses is disappointing after they at least played fundamentally sound through much of the season’s first six weeks. There’s no excuses for throwing to the wrong base or botching the most routine of plays.

2. A stretch of 11 losses in 13 games is when Brandon Hyde really earns his money. Combating the mental fatigue of so much losing and knowing when to put your arm around a struggling player or give him the figurative kick in the tail are important aspects of this job.

3. Since taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning of his first start of 2019, David Hess has allowed a major-league-worst 17 homers and sports an 8.27 ERA over 37 innings. The problem is the shortage of alternatives at Norfolk. You’d rather not rush Keegan Akin after just eight Triple-A starts.

4. Andrew Cashner is throwing his changeup a career-high 22.2 percent of the time and ranks in the top 10 in the majors in FanGraph’s changeup value metric. His fastball is also averaging just under 95 miles per hour in recent outings. He’s making a case as a rental trade chip.

5. Is it a coincidence Chris Davis went into a 4-for-26 slump with 17 strikeouts immediately upon being placed in the cleanup spot for the first time this season? It’s best to keep him in the bottom half of the lineup and limit his starts against lefty pitching at this point.

6. Stevie Wilkerson is unlikely to be a good fit for the leadoff spot with only two walks in 85 plate appearances entering Tuesday, but a .770 on-base plus slugging percentage and respectable defense in center field — a position he’d never played before 2019 — is called taking advantage of the opportunity.

7. With DJ Stewart on fire at Norfolk and Wilkerson starting most games in center, Joey Rickard could be running out of time to improve upon his .198 average. He has over 900 career plate appearances, meaning we should really have a good idea of what he is at this point.

8. Shawn Armstrong has been impressive in his first seven appearances with Baltimore, but his immediate placement in some high-leverage spots says much more about this bullpen than his ability. Incredibly, playoff-hopeful Washington has been even worse in relief this year.

9. Mark Trumbo is moving closer to a rehab assignment after beginning to play in extended spring games, but Hyde described the return timetable for Alex Cobb as “open-ended” Tuesday. The two are making a combined $27.5 million this season, more than a third of the entire payroll.

10. After homering in back-to-back games in his rehab stint at Single-A Frederick, Austin Hays figures to be moving up sooner than later. Meanwhile, Cedric Mullins entered Tuesday batting just .233 with a .666 OPS at Norfolk since his April demotion.

11. The Orioles gave up their 100th home run in just their 48th game Tuesday to best the 2000 Kansas City Royals, who needed 57 games to allow 100. Perhaps “2131”-like Warehouse banners are in order as Baltimore moves toward shattering the major-league record of 258 surrendered by Cincinnati in 2016.

12. Rebuilding isn’t fun. Some clamored for Baltimore to sell as early as 2015 to better position themselves for the future, but the organization kept kicking the can down the road for the low probability of contending. That all but guaranteed the painful rebuild you’re watching — or not watching — now.

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Orioles send struggling Mullins to Triple-A Norfolk

Posted on 22 April 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Viewed as the hopeful heir apparent to former Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, the struggling Cedric Mullins was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk prior to Monday’s series opener against the Chicago White Sox.

The 24-year-old Mullins was hitting just .094 with four runs batted in, a stolen base, and two triples in 74 plate appearances this season and owned just two hits — both singles — in his last 40 at-bats since his two-triple game against Oakland on April 8. Mullins batted an impressive .317 over his first 72 plate appearances upon making his major league debut last August, but he holds a .152 batting average over his last 193 major league plate appearances dating back to last Sept. 1, which was concerning enough to warrant a demotion. The switch-hitting center fielder also struggled at the plate this spring, hitting just .160 in 59 plate appearances in the Grapefruit League.

Mullins didn’t start Sunday’s 4-3 loss to Minnesota and rolled out weakly to first base in his only at-bat in the eighth inning, showing some frustration as he crossed the bag and jogged back to the dugout. Backup catcher Pedro Severino batted for him an inning later with the bases loaded and the Orioles trailing by one run with two outs.

“Cedric’s off to kind of a tough start offensively,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We love the way he was playing defense; he’s really contributed defensively. We just felt like, from a confidence standpoint, we’d like to see him go down there, work on some things, get some more at-bats. Mainly, he’s been scuffling, and he’s a big part of our club going forward and the future. We want to see him have success. We thought the best thing for him was to go down there, kind of ‘clean-slate’ the season, work on a few things offensively, and hopefully come back up here soon.”

Mullins entered the season facing questions about his ability to hit from the right side of the plate after struggling against southpaw pitching throughout his minor-league career, but Hyde wants to see him get more at-bats from both sides of the plate with the Tides as he started only four games against left-handed pitchers this season and went 1-for-15 against lefties. A 13th-round pick in the 2015 draft, Mullins was batting .102 in 56 plate appearances against right-handers this season, making the previous doubts about his right-handed swing seem trivial in comparison.

There have also been some long-term questions about the strength of Mullins’ throwing arm, leaving many to wonder if he’ll eventually slide to left field or settle into a role as a fourth outfielder. In the spring, both Hyde and general manager Mike Elias commented on the possibility of outfield prospect Austin Hays eventually playing center field in Baltimore before he was optioned to Norfolk, which wasn’t exactly interpreted by some as a ringing endorsement for Mullins. Of course, Hays is still recovering from a thumb injury suffered late in minor-league spring training.

Mullins’ demotion is a frustrating reminder that prospects often don’t develop on a linear path after he entered the season as one of only a few on the current roster seemingly having a good chance to last through a lengthy rebuilding process in Baltimore. That’s not to say Mullins won’t still develop into an effective everyday player, but his struggles are only one example of what’s sure to be at least a few speed bumps along the Orioles’ road back to respectability and contention.

“This is a tough game, and this game can beat you up,” Hyde said. “When you don’t have maybe the major league experience and the confidence or something to go to where you can look back and say, ‘This is how I dealt with it at this time in my career,’ I think there’s a lot of pressure that you put on yourself that you want to succeed.

“There are a lot of great players that have been sent back to Triple A — a lot of great players. That’s part of the game, and that’s just part of your development and learning to deal with adversity and fighting through tough times and maybe going down there to recharge and restart something, figure something out, go back to something that worked, and then come back up here and hopefully have a long career.”

It’s worth noting Mullins had only 269 plate appearances for Norfolk before making his major league debut, which would have likely clashed with the deliberate focus Elias has placed on player development so far with both Hays and catcher Chance Sisco being sent to Norfolk despite strong spring performances and previous major league experience. Mullins batted .269 with six home runs, 17 doubles, three triples, 19 RBIs, 12 stolen bases, and a .771 OPS for the Tides last season before being called up to the majors, numbers not so great to suggest he couldn’t benefit from some more seasoning.

The Orioles selected the contract of utility player Stevie Wilkerson from Norfolk to take Mullins’ place on the 25-man roster. Hyde said he could see some playing time in center field along with veteran Joey Rickard, who started at that position Monday night.

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Despite strong spring, Orioles prospect Hays optioned to Triple-A Norfolk

Posted on 17 March 2019 by Luke Jones

No player in Orioles major league camp was having a better spring than Austin Hays, but that didn’t stop the 23-year-old outfielder from being optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday.

The decision was met with some surprise after Hays batted .351 with five home runs and a 1.277 on-base plus slugging percentage in 40 plate appearances in the Grapefruit League, but the 2016 third-round pick’s only professional experience above the Double-A level to this point in his career is 63 plate appearance with Baltimore in the final month of 2017. Entering spring training, most didn’t consider Hays a strong bet to make the major league club after his injury-riddled 2018 season that ended with him undergoing ankle surgery in September, but he used the spring to reestablish himself as one of Baltimore’s best prospects and eased concerns about his ankle by showing off good speed and strong defense. His nine extra-base hits led the club.

Baseball America named Hays its No. 21 overall prospect entering 2018, but the first 2016 draftee to make the major leagues struggled at Double-A Bowie, batting just .242 with 12 homers and a .703 OPS in 288 plate appearances while missing significant time with his ankle injury. With Hays struggling, the Orioles promoted the likes of Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart after the trade deadline last year.

Mullins is expected to be the Opening Day center fielder for Baltimore, but Hays has impressed with his defense in center and appears likely to play that position for the Tides. Questions about Mullins’ throwing arm could eventually push him to a corner outfield spot, especially if Hays plays the position effectively at Norfolk.

Hays wasn’t the only young outfielder to be optioned to Norfolk on Sunday as former Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander was cut from major league camp. The 24-year-old also made a favorable impression this spring with the new Orioles regime by batting .333 with eight extra-base hits and a 1.086 OPS in 36 plate appearances.

With Hays and Santander demoted, Cedric Mullins, Trey Mancini, Joey Rickard, Dwight Smith Jr., Eric Young Jr., and Drew Jackson remain in the outfield picture to varying degrees.

General manager Mike Elias also optioned infielder Stevie Wilkerson and right-handed pitchers Cody Carroll, Branden Kline, and Yefry Ramirez to the Tides. Ramirez was vying for a spot in the Orioles’ starting rotation after making 12 starts in the majors last year, but he posted a 5.11 ERA in 12 1/3 innings in the Grapefruit League.

Right-hander Gabriel Ynoa and infielder Christopher Bostick were also reassigned to minor-league camp, leaving 39 players in major league camp with the start of the season less than two weeks away.

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