Mancini 'not afraid' to become O's new leader

September 23rd, 2019

TORONTO -- The Orioles have watched blossom into one of the most productive hitters in the American League, the O's lineup linchpin and the holder of an outsized role inside the walls of their young clubhouse. Heading into 2020, Baltimore thinks there is still room for Mancini’s impact to grow, both on the field and off.

While the Orioles are preparing to hold exit interviews with all their players in the coming weeks, the conversations have already started with Mancini regarding how he can build off his breakout 2019 season. One of the main topics they’ve stressed is leadership, and their desire for Mancini to expand on the progress he’s made this year in that space. Consider the slugger on board.

“From here on forward, I can take on more of a vocal role,” Mancini said on Monday afternoon. “I’m not afraid to be a little more vocal. That’s going to be more the goal going into next year, is to try to develop in that role.”

It’s a position the Orioles have eyeballed Mancini for since the onset of the season, after last year’s regime change and the departure of Adam Jones and several others. The O's opened the year with so few veterans that the 27-year-old Mancini, who was entering just his third big league season, qualified as one of their longest-tenured players.

While Andrew Cashner assumed an authority presence before his July trade to the Red Sox, Mancini is homegrown, under team control through 2023, and has drawn praise throughout the organization for his demeanor, work ethic and makeup. Of course, he also led the Orioles in several major offensive categories before Monday's game against the Blue Jays, including homers (34), doubles (36), slugging (.532) and OPS (.899).

“For me, it’s time,” manager Brandon Hyde said recently. “It’s time to not just let his actions show what kind of player he is, but he can lead guys, too, in different ways. He’s really smart. He’s engaging. He’s fun to be around. Guys really respect him. He has a great attitude. ... As he gets more comfortable being in the big leagues and putting up years like he’s just put up, that will be more natural for him, to pull guys aside and teach along the way as well.”

Mancini noted on Monday that he grew into similar roles toward the end of his high school and college careers, though he noted “this is obviously a much bigger stage than that.” He said he hoped to start “having difficult conversations with guys if you really need to” and “step out of your comfort zone and not be afraid to speak up” more in 2020.

“Sometimes you look around and you think, it’s happened quick,” Mancini said. “I was a rookie two years ago and now we have so many guys getting their first taste in the Majors, or guys who haven’t been here as long as I have. I realized recently in September -- we have 36 guys here -- that I have to do that even more and more.”

On the field, the Orioles want Mancini to focus on building on what’s developed into his main offensive strength: driving the ball in the air with authority. That’ll be the focus this offseason, though Mancini isn’t planning the kind of swing overhaul that’s become common in the launch-angle era. His adjustments are more approach-based, related to pitch selection and with an eye toward further slicing the career-low 46.5 percent ground-ball rate he posted this season.

Hyde called the goal getting Mancini in the “mindset of going gap to gap trying to put a 3-iron over the center-field wall” every at-bat.

“Not trying to lift the ball, just getting pitches he can drive,” Hyde said. “Over the course of the season, what you’ve seen with Trey is, he’s getting some experience and you’re starting to see more plate discipline. He’s not chasing the sinker down and in or letting the ball run in on his hands. Doing a better job laying off the slider down and away. He’s put really good swings on balls lately because he’s gotten in hitters’ counts. When you grow as a hitter, you’ll see him hit the ball in the air a lot more with authority.”