Digging For Diamonds: Cedric “The Entertainer” Mullins
From David vs. Goliath all the way up to anyone vs. the New England Patriots, we have always loved to root for the underdog; our own country was once the underdog against Great Britain, and yet here we stand 241 years later with the freedom of speech and to worship whomever we please. Insert Cedric Mullins. There is nothing on paper that truly jumps out about Mullins, and that is what makes him so fascinating to me. To find the true diamonds in the rough, you have to do a little bit of digging, and dig I shall.
When Mullins was three years old, his aunt and uncle gave him a mini plastic golf set for Christmas. “Instead of hitting the ball on the ground, I was tossing it up and hitting it to myself, and I’m chasing the ball back and forth.” It seems that from an early age, Mullins was steadfast and determined to become a professional baseball player, even if he was being pigeon-holed into golf by his manipulating, conniving extended family.
In high school, Mullins started receiving attention from D-1 scouts, but when they found out he was not regularly starting during his junior year, Mullins was forced to begin his career at a junior college. After he hit .417 his sophomore year for Louisville College, Mullins began to see his hard work pay off: “I just kept at it, stayed diligent to my work ethic. Scouts started calling me and asking my thoughts on this, this, and that, and I was just like, ‘I just want to play ball.’ It was that simple. I just wanted to continue my career.” He then transferred to Campbell University in Buies Creek, NC, and the Camels went on to reach the championship round of the Big South Conference Tournament, with Mullins playing a key part of that feat, knocking in a team-high 59 runs while slapping 34 extra-base hits during the campaign. Mullins then earned Second Team All-Big South and Atlantic ABCA/Rawlings All-Region Second Team accolades his senior year and felt he did everything in his power to get noticed by scouts at the MLB level.
Standing at just 5-8/175, Mullins was far from the ideal draft prospect, even for a speedy centerfielder. His Draft Day story only further reinforces his ‘underdog status’ in my eyes: “My brother was upstairs, he was asleep. My mom and dad were both at work, my sister was at a cheerleading camp. So I was actually by myself just listening to names getting called out, talking to my advisor, who is now my agent.” Mullins woke up early that day “praying that someone would pick me up earlier so that I wouldn’t have to keep my face glued to the board” all day, and Mullins eventually heard his name called by the Baltimore Orioles in the 13th round – the 403rd overall pick in the draft. “It felt like months waiting for that moment. And it finally came and I was just relieved.” Although thankful for the opportunity, Mullins knew that there was still plenty of hard work to be done to become a player at the game’s highest level.
Mullins hit just .264 for Short-Season Aberdeen upon being drafted in 2015 and was understandably exhausted, as he noted “I’ve never traveled eight hours on a bus before. That was something I definitely had to adjust to on the fly.” Well, adjust he did. After a nice offseason of rest, Mullins broke out in 2016, hitting .273 with a 6.6% walk-rate while striking out 18.1% of the time. Taking a closer look at the counting stats reveals that Mullins was just one of five players in the entire minor leagues to have double figures in doubles, triples, homers, and stolen bases last year.
Despite more than holding his own in his first professional season, Mullins received little to no love from any major prospect publication this offseason. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen noted “scouts with whom I spoke universally projected him as a fourth outfielder when I worked on the Orioles org rankings.” Still, the Orioles were impressed with his first full season as well as his showing in spring training this year, and as a result, they made the extremely rare decision for Mullins to skip High-A ball entirely, going straight from Low-A in 2016 to Double-A this season. The only other prospect to do so this year was another 22 year-old, Cardinals’ second baseman Eliezer Alvarez. He’s hitting .231 and striking out in a third of his at-bats, so needless to say, skipping the A+ level is rare because it is so incredibly difficult.
Despite currently being on the DL for the second time this season due to hamstring issues, Mullins has opened eyes even further this season, hitting .323 with improved walk-rates and strikeout-rates of 6.3% and 14.0%, respectively. He is also hitting for more power, with a .215 ISO compared to last year’s .191. He’s stolen five bases even with the hamstring issues, and he already has eight homers which would have put him on pace to crush last year’s mark of 14 had he stayed healthy for the entire season this year. He has always been hailed as a “plus runner and a decent center field prospect“, so if he can show that he can hit, hit for power, and keep making improvements in his strikeouts and walks, he may easily end up as Adam Jones’ long-term replacement in center field in Baltimore.
Regardless of his diminutive frame, lack of pedigree, and current injury woes, this is a big-time prospect who the entire industry is sleeping on, and he reminds me an awful lot of a Yankees’ outfield prospect who is also hurt in Dustin Fowler, who was incidentally one of the other four prospects with double-digit steals, homers, doubles and triples last year. Longenhagen did note in his write-up this offseason that “at a glance, [Mullins] appears unlikely to do much damage with his bat. But the ball jumps off his barrel surprisingly hard for someone with such a low-effort swing,” which is exactly the type of phrasing I am looking for when digging for my diamonds. I love an underdog, I love a guy who is given a huge challenge and responds positively, and I love a guy who I can tell his team genuinely values and appreciates as well. I will leave you with these two quotes, and again, just keep in mind, this is a 5-8, 13th-rounder out of Campbell University who prior to this season had yet to have a single at-bat above single-A:
“There’s a couple signs that tell us that Mullins is a natural player… The fact that he can come into big league camp uninvited and hit like (he did) in spring training this year, that’s pretty impressive. Plus, he’s probably our fastest runner.” – president of baseball operations Dan Duquette
“Like a cricket, he’s moving everywhere. He’s got a smile on his face. He’s energetic. He couldn’t believe he was playing in a major league, spring training game. And we put him in there and he lit up the field. I mean, there was energy that came with him and those are things you can’t show in a stat sheet. There was a certain culture change, so to speak, of what was going on with the competition and he was one of those guys you couldn’t take your eyes off of, and he’s the type of guy you don’t sell short and he actually took his time from big league camp, and I thought it really helped him going into the season with a lot of confidence. How many triples he end up having this year, Steve? About 12, 15? And not a triple park. Good defender. Switch hitter. He’s one of those guys that’s under the radar screen. If I keep talking about him, he won’t be.” – Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter
If you want more of The Entertainer, check out this great 3-minute interview with the man himself here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LPH-cRql3I