Mancini has emerged as indispensable for O's

June 16th, 2017

CHICAGO -- was organizational surplus for the Orioles entering this season. He's made himself into an important part of the lineup, especially with Chris Davis out with one of those dreaded strained obliques.

"He's been good,'' Buck Showalter said. "He's been fun to watch.''

Not a lot has been going right for the Orioles lately. They have won only seven of their past 24 games, tumbling from first place in the American League East into a tie for fourth.

The rotation is a mess, Manny Machado can't escape an extended slump and closer Zach Britton is on the disabled list, weakening a bullpen that should be a team strength. But Mancini, a baseball player with a boxer's name, has been a constant bright spot.

While 's grand slam was the big blow when the O's ended a six-game losing streak on Wednesday, Mancini was a factor throughout the 10-6 victory over the White Sox. He had a double, two singles and a walk, scoring three runs and driving in another.

Mancini is hitting .298, the best among Baltimore's regulars, with 10 home runs and 34 RBIs, just behind 's team-leading 36. That's a lot of production for a career first baseman on a team that features Davis (signed to a seven-year, $161-million contract before 2016) at first base and , the reigning AL home run champ, as the DH.

Fortunately for Mancini, he learned to be resourceful while climbing up the ranks of the team's prospects.

Mancini wasn't well known when he was selected in the eighth round of the 2013 MLB Draft as a Notre Dame senior. But he worked his way through the O's system, and he climbed to No. 5 among the club's prospects as ranked by in 2016 before the '17 list released.

Yet Mancini seemed to be only a trade piece once Orioles general manager Dan Duquette re-signed Trumbo, who explored the market but didn't find a better deal than the three-year offer to stay. Mancini didn't let his situation discourage him.

"I knew an opportunity would likely come up, but I didn't know what it would be,'' said Mancini, 25. "I knew if I kept hitting enough, they'd find a spot for you. That was the message delivered to me. I bought into it, believed it and it came true, for sure.''

Mancini was promoted last September after hitting 20 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A, and he made his presence felt even though he didn't have a position to play. He homered in his first three starts, becoming only the third player in Major League history to do that.

While the Orioles were set at first base and DH, they had questions in the outfield corners. It was former Baltimore All-Star outfielder Brady Anderson, now the team's vice president for baseball operations, who suggested Mancini learn to play the outfield.

"I went out to Brady Anderson's house in January to work out," Mancini said. "We had a conversation then about how he was wanting to work with me in the spring, pretty intensely. It would likely be my best shot to make the team, as an outfielder. He thought I was athletic enough."

With the exception of a few games of summer ball in the New England Collegiate League after his freshman season at Notre Dame, Mancini hadn't played outfield since he was 10. He says he got "a crash course" in Spring Training, working with coach Wayne Kirby and Anderson.

Showalter started Hyun Soo Kim in left field and Seth Smith in right on Opening Day but wrote Mancini into the lineup as his right fielder in the second game of the season. He now admits he had some trepidation but says Mancini quickly adjusted to the outfield.

"I was wrong," Showalter said. "I was really concerned coming out of spring that he didn't get enough time out there for us to get a feel for it, but he's handled it well. He doesn't look at his inexperience for a reason to fail, as an excuse. He wants to be the best left fielder he can be, the best right fielder."

Mancini has played mostly left field, earning +1 Defensive Runs Saved over 206 innings out there.

"It's still a process and I'm learning,'" Mancini said. "But overall I feel I've gotten to know what I need to do out there."

When Davis experienced pain in his right side after hitting a line drive on Monday night, it was a natural transition for Showalter to move Mancini to first base and replace Davis in the lineup with Kim, who had emerged as the primary left fielder last season.

Showalter says there are other options at first base -- including the left-handed-hitting David Washington, who made his Major League debut on Wednesday -- but don't be surprised to see Mancini in there on a daily basis. He's the best defensive option, even if he's been doing most of his work in the outfield.

"I've been playing there for so long, my entire life, being away a little bit wasn't too drastic coming back," Mancini said. "I feel comfortable there. I played every inning there in the minors. I knew going back, if it was one inning or longer, I'd be comfortable."

In the shadows no longer, Mancini has become a main man.