This spring is set to be different than last for Cedric Mullins. On the outside of the roster looking in last year, Mullins figures to enter Spring Training this season with not only a chance to win the Orioles' center-field job, but the leadoff-hitter role as well. His heightened status comes on the heels of a 2018 season Mullins calls "surreal."
Mullins reflected on his first big league action at last week's MLB Rookie Career Development Program in Miami, where he joined 106 other prospects for a crash course in what to expect in the Majors. The annual seminar is designed to prepare rookies for off-the-field demands like dealing with the media, financial planning and inclusion training. Mullins arrived with more experience than most, having climbed three development levels last summer.
Mullins began the year at Double-A Bowie, excelling to a .313/.362/.512 line in his second crack at the level. He then performed well enough at Triple-A Norfolk to earn a promotion after a flurry of midseason trades cleared space on the O's roster. Mullins provided an immediate spark, hitting .317/.386/.556 over the month of August while playing mostly center field, before slumping in September.
All told, the 24-year-old hit .289/.346/.472 with 12 home runs and 21 stolen bases in the Minors, and then .235/.312/.359 with four home runs and two steals in 45 big league games.
"It felt weird at the end of the season -- I'd almost forgotten I'd started at Double-A," Mullins said. "It was about continuing to progress, and proving I belonged at each level I was at."
Mullins was part of a four-man Orioles contingent at this year's RCDP, along with Yefry Ramirez and Jimmy Yacabonis, both of whom also saw action in the Majors last summer. The other O's representative, right-hander Branden Kline, appears poised to debut in 2019. Kline, a Frederick, Md., native, is ranked the club's No. 25 prospect by MLB Pipeline.
After combining to make 19 starts in 2018, Ramirez and Yacabonis will enter camp hoping to win spots at the back of the Orioles' rotation. If they don't, both could join the heap of relievers set to jockey for bullpen roles. Though Mullins probably has a leg up on the center-field job at the moment, that could change if the Orioles add an outfielder via free agency. Either way, Mullins will at least be battling for playing time with the likes of Austin Hays, Yusniel Diaz and others.
"Processing information a little faster, thinking ahead of the game, that's something I still need to work on. The talent is there for me to continue to compete. Now it's about getting smarter," Mullins said. "That cycle never stops. It comes down to the point of being better than myself, always competing against myself. Continuing to grow, to develop, and making the most of my opportunities."