Is Cedric Mullins The Orioles Center Fielder of the Future?
When considering the prospects that could factor into a rebuilding phase for the Baltimore Orioles, few elicit as much discussion as center fielder Cedric Mullins. Center field in Baltimore is likely to be up for grabs for 2019 and beyond, but Mullins will have some areas to address if he is to patrol the position for the Orioles.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Mullins’ prospect stock began to rise last year, when the Orioles made an aggressive move by having him bypass High-A Frederick and begin the season at Double-A Bowie. He went on to post solid numbers in an injury-shortened season, batting .265/.319/.460 in 76 games.
That said, his limited amount of time on the field last year made Bowie a logical destination to begin this year. Thus far, Mullins’ numbers have been close to his 2017 production—.268/.319.471 through 38 games—and he is likely to be watched closely as the year progresses.
Most discussions surrounding Mullins are not always focused on his minor league numbers, however, and instead whether he can fill what will likely be a void in center field for the Orioles in the near future. Adam Jones’ contract will expire at the end of this year, and it seems unlikely for now that he will re-sign with the Orioles (keep in mind that he could also be a July trade candidate at this rate). With the Orioles struggling and likely heading toward a rebuild, it becomes appealing to imagine an all homegrown outfield in 2019 that features Trey Mancini in left fielder, Mullins in center, and Austin Hays in right.
If Mullins is to get there, it will require meshing an intriguing—but perhaps not fully realized—skillset. Few observers would doubt Mullins’ speed, and his range in center field has always been highly regarded. He has also handled the challenge of Double-A in stride by showing some ability with his contact skills.
Doubts about Mullins are likely to concentrate on two key areas: his arm strength and his ability to get on base. While his range in center field has never been in doubt, most reports questions his arm strength. The larger issue for the Orioles might come down to how much they value having a strong-armed center fielder. If Mullins emerges as a center fielder with an exceptional range but a below-average arm, he would still be a defensive upgrade over Jones going forward.
Hays—who has the ability to play center field—is generally regarded as having the better arm. That said, if it is determined that Hays’ skillset will better translate in right fielder, then Mullins would look more like a long-term option in center field.
Another concern for Mullins—and one that is reflected in his career stat line—is his ability to get on base. His OBP this season leaves much to be desired, and his track record questions about whether he will get on base enough to put his speed to use. A switch-hitter, he has traditionally struggled against left-handed pitching, though his production over a small sample size this year is opposite of that trend (.313/.333/.594 through 32 games)>
Given these factors, Mullins’ all-around abilities as a hitter will likely determine his role if he reaches the majors. If he maintains solid contact skills each season and makes strides with OBP, he profiles as an everyday player and one that he can capably fill the center field position. If his OBP raises to an extreme, then his profile suddenly looks like that of a possible lead-off hitter, though whether he can come that far remains to be seen.
In the worst-case scenario, Mullins may factor in more as a role player—one that gets at-bats against right-handed pitchers and can add value with defense. His bat might not warrant an everyday lineup position, but players that can offer the speed and defense profile that Mullins has tend to at least serve as role players at the major league level.
There will be a lot of factors for 2018 that will determine where Mullins ends up in 2019, and whether he will ultimately position himself as a long-term option in center field. For now, however, his skillset makes him a player worth monitoring, and one that cannot be ruled out for a regular role with the Orioles down the road.