Mullins retooled swing, eyes Majors return

February 8th, 2020

NOTTINGHAM, Md. -- When the sun set on what amounted to a lost season, sought answers. An offseason later, he’s set to touch down in Spring Training with something to prove.

Mullins spent two weeks this winter with private hitting instructor Rick Strickland in St. Louis, retooling his swing with an eye toward 2020. One of the early adopters of Blast Motion technology, Strickland runs a high-tech operation that is considered cutting edge. He boasts Red Sox outfielder as another client.

“I got introduced to a lot of different technology that’s a part of baseball nowadays,” Mullins said. “Being able to come to terms with that terminology for my approach and swing, that was very helpful. The intent this offseason was to put the past in the past and keep pressing forward.”

2019 was a season to forget for the Orioles’ Opening Day center fielder, who went 6-for-64 (.094) to begin the year before being demoted, first to Triple-A. Hitting .205 with a .578 OPS there resulted in Mullins finding himself back at Double-A Bowie, where he finished the season.

All told, it was the inverse of the significant strides Mullins took in 2018, when he began the year at Bowie and concluded it in the Majors. In the meantime, , and others passed Mullins on the organizational depth chart.

“It was frustrating,” Mullins said. “It was rough. In terms of the entirety of my career, [I’ve] never had that much failure. It was humbling, going back to square one and trying to create success for the future.”

Square one wound up being the Midwest, where Mullins pulled double two-hour sessions daily for two weeks, sometimes hitting until “I was getting blisters on my hands.” With the help of Blast Motion sensors and other technology, Strickland and Mullins reimagined both of the switch-hitter’s swings from the ground up. Mullins said introducing a leg kick to his left-handed approach was the most drastic adjustment made.

The result? What Mullins hopes amounts to “a clean slate,” both in his mind and the organization’s. The fact that he remains on the 40-man roster means he might achieve it, and 's ankle injury makes Mullins’ path clearer in the short term. As it stands now, he’ll have to beat out at least to win the fourth outfielder job, though No. 13 prospect poses competition as well.

Few in O’s camp are able to match the Mullins’ wheels, who posted a sprint speed in the 94th percentile and ranked as Baltimore’s best defensive outfielder by Outs Above Average in 2019. If he plays his way back to the Majors, he could give the Orioles an element they lacked for long stretches last summer.

“I probably put a little more pressure on myself than I needed,” Mullins said. “The game stays the same; it’s just with a bigger crowd. I need to remind myself that and go out there and play my game.

“The biggest thing is that I’m not down on myself. That I’m staying optimistic. That what happened in the past doesn’t hinder me in the present. That’s what I’m looking forward to doing when I get [to camp].”