KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The list of great MLB players who stand 5-foot-8 or less is short but distinguished. Tim Raines, Joe Morgan, Kirby Puckett, Yogi Berra and Oscar Charleston are Hall of Famers, but even if Baltimore Orioles slugger Cedric Mullins ascends no higher than All-Star status, it’s better than a lot of talent evaluators projected.
What he might lack in height, the 26-year-old Mullins makes up for in production. Going into Monday’s games, no outfielder in the American League had a higher slugging percentage (.538), more stolen bases (16) or a better weighted on-base average (.396) than Mullins.
It hasn’t come easy or quickly, with Mullins overcoming limitations that some put on him and others that just were there. But with hard work, relentless dedication and smart decisions, his talents are shining through.
Not long after returning from his first All-Star Game, Mullins sat down in the Orioles dugout for a wide-ranging conversation with Bally Sports that covered his experience at Coors Field, his decision to give up switch-hitting, the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and what it’s like to be the guy on the T-shirt that everyone in Baltimore wants to be wearing.
Was there anyone at the All-Star festivities you wanted to meet? Like Ken Griffey Jr. — did you meet him?
I did end up meeting Ken Griffey Jr. I didn't know he was going to be out there. I walked up and introduced myself to him. It was awesome talking to him even for a couple minutes, an amazing experience. He is one of my baseball idols. That was one of the moments where I was like, you know, I have nothing to lose introducing myself to him.
What does Henry Aaron mean to you?
It's a legacy that's untouched. This is someone who risked a lot to do what he did over the course of his career. And just thinking about the timeframe with him playing versus what I can experience as a player now, it's really all thanks to him.
Did the Home Run Derby go down like you thought it would? Shohei Ohtani didn't win — what was up with that?
Ohtani didn't win, but Ohtani was not my pick, it was Trey (Mancini). And he had a really awesome showing. It was awesome to see him out there. I thought 22 (homers) in the last round was gonna be enough because of the time-limit change. But you know, Pete Alonso had a great showing and was able to pull it out.
What else can you say about Trey? How do you feel about him?
Just a very humble guy, someone that's always trying to put others in front of himself. He ran into a situation where he had to care for himself instead, but he was always checking up to see how guys on the team were doing when we're worried about him and his well-being. So it's just a guy that you can't go against in any contest.
Could you see yourself swinging at a Home Run Derby someday?
No. I can see myself having a really good year in terms of the power numbers, but I don't see myself attending a Home Run Derby. (Laughs)
You're not that far off in raw numbers of some Derby contestants.
Yeah, raw numbers. But those are guys that have the ability to put them out whenever they want during B.P. I really don't consider myself one of those guys. I have that potential. But it's taxing on them. Just being out there doing it, I can only imagine what I'd feel like.
Did you have an idea of how hard the Home Run Derby was before you went to one?
I did have an idea. I didn't realize it was so taxing. They're all feeling gassed within a two-minute timeframe, just in the first round. I was like, “Wow, just take a break. Take a rest and try to get back out there.”
Please say “yes.” Did you get your COVID-19 vaccine?
I did. It was to protect my family. They needed the availability to go back to work and be able to provide for others. And just keeping the community safe. And even though I got the vaccine, I'm still taking some precautions wherever — going to the grocery store and stuff like that. I was still wearing my mask, washing my hands — which is a natural thing anyway, especially for me. It was just important to me to take care.
Is it a contentious topic inside the clubhouse?
Not really. Everyone's free to give their opinions. A lot of people did get it. For the guys that didn't, I respect their thoughts on why they're not getting it. There's no animosity towards anybody who didn't.
Don't you have to say that in order to get along inside of a clubhouse?
No. I mean, when the vaccine first came out, everyone had their questions and concerns about the effectiveness and side effects. Some guys made their decision off the bat, but others were trying to learn more about it and truly make an informed decision. I respect them for it.
With so many people wearing Cedric Mullins T-shirts these days, maybe teammates and fans want to dress like you on other days. Where should they shop?
I was shocked when I got some decent shirts from Banana Republic, but past that, I can find a lot of my clothes in the bargain store and call it a day. I wear a lot of sweats. I'm not usually dressing up all the time unless it's to go to the field or a nice place to eat. I'm thinking about what my family wore during the red carpet event, my girlfriend was wearing a dress that was from H&M. And she was able to dress it up the way she wanted to and looked amazing.
You're having a breakthrough season and that means a lot for your career — job security, money, status, awards, respect. Along those lines, what do you want your bobblehead to look like next year?
(Laughs). I typically have the bobblehead of me making a diving play. I say my favorite day of the season so far was my T-shirt night. I was able to hit two home runs that day, a really solid showing, and it was great for fans to be out there. It'd be awesome to commemorate that.
The story goes that your godmother bought you a plastic golf club starter set when you were 3 years old during Tiger Woods’ prime, and you started, like, hitting fungoes with it. So your dad went to the store and got you baseball equipment to play with instead. Have you ever gone back and golfed?
I have not. So I've found myself going to the range a few times — just the range. And I don't even own my own golf clubs. So I'll (use) the golf clubs that they have and just go out there and swing a little bit. And I'm not even good at that. I'll run into a few where they end up going straight, but most of the time they're slicing or I'm pulling it, yanking it, whatever you want, whatever the terminology is. But, nah, I haven't picked up golf yet.
The ball's not even moving. You'd think it would be easier to hit it where you want.
You'd think it'd be easier, but hitting it off the terrain is something that I've never necessarily had to think about playing baseball. So it's a totally different monster. I just can't go out there and be a pro golfer.
Did you graduate from Campbell?
No, I did not graduate. I plan on finishing up. I only have one year left. I can only imagine what those classes will be like after not taking any for so long, just within this timeframe. It was sports management-slash-business. I might go with the business degree with a sports management side.
You've played more than 100 games at Camden Yards. How much of "Thank God I'm A Country Boy" have you memorized? Do you sing along?
I do not sing along. I've been hearing "Thank God I'm A Country Boy" well before Camden Yards. I went to school in North Carolina, and you run into a lot of country folks out there. And I have a lot of family in North Carolina, too. I'm just around "Thank God I'm A Country Boy." I mean, even at home in Georgia, "Thank God I'm A Country Boy" played in the Braves stadiums when I was growing up watching them. It's a song that I can't escape. (Laughs)
Do you keep in touch with Adam Jones? How's he doing playing overseas?
Ah, he's doing well. I keep in touch with him. I just went on his podcast not too long ago. He's doing well. His family is doing well. He always reached out to me, congratulated me a lot of times when I’ve had any accomplishments come my way.
When you're not playing baseball or training for it, what do you fill your brain with?
I've been trying to pick up reading a little more. I like stuff that's more on the educational side, learning how to develop myself. Not really stories. But I also like movies and video games, and I mess around with that and play with a few guys on the team. You know, I also like doing outdoor activities with available playing and stuff like that.
Movies, I've always kept up with the "Fast and Furious" franchise even though they've really gone off of the racing part of it and now they're superheroes basically. But then also I've watched all the Marvel movies from top to bottom. I've kept up with those pretty heavily.
Who's your favorite Marvel hero or villain or person?
Villain, it was either Loki or Ultron because they were just so charismatic. They were hilarious. They provided comedic relief. I haven't seen the "Loki" show yet. Iron Man, of course, provides that same comedy, but he's also intense with it.
As a self-described "math guy," do you consume analytic data for baseball, and how does it inform your approach?
Yeah, 100 percent. It forces a learning curve. When I was first introduced to it, I really didn't know how to correlate the numbers versus what I was seeing visually with my own swing and different stuff on the field. But over time, I picked it up pretty easily, and now it all makes sense.
Can you pull an example of learning a metric in analytics that has helped you?
The vertical bat angle. It's the angle at which a bat is tilted at the point of contact. And for a while, when I was working on my swing, it was very linear, like more in the 15-to-18 degree range. And I was working on getting into more of the 25 to 30, which would put me on a plane to spread the ball up more efficiently and stay through it. And when I was seeing the numbers pop up every swing, I was able to also feel what it was doing off the bat.
A lot of things must go into the success that you're having this year. But could you put a percentage of the credit on stopping switch-hitting?
In terms of the success of my career, you could just say 100 percent. Switch-hitting, I picked up on it pretty late, being that I didn't start (hitting right-handed) during games until senior year of high school. I do feel like switch-hitting helped me get to where I am today. But dropping it helped me go past my limits in terms of being someone that the team can rely on every day to go out there and perform at a high level. My right-hand swing wasn't able to do it at the big-league level.
But you did get something out of switch-hitting?
My left side was always the backbone of my numbers. And I was always able to use my left side to try and continue to improve my right side. It was just a matter of trying to see if we could develop it quicker. I feel like when I finally made a decision, my right side was just too far behind. And something needed to change.
Some batters start switch-hitting to be closer to first base in the batter’s box. Like Mickey Mantle. As a natural lefty, why did you start switch-hitting in the first place?
I started switching because I knew that being a switch-hitter, with everything that seemed to be stacked against me — my height, my size at the time — it was something that, regardless of what (scouts might) see, they could say: "He's still able to do something that a lot of other people can't." I do feel like it helped me find a school. I do feel like it helped me get drafted. And it was a matter of seeing how well it could continue, and it didn't seem to be going that route. So I sat with the Orioles brass and we decided to go ahead and chop it.
Were there differing opinions from the Orioles on whether you should stop switch-hitting?
I'd say back in '19, when I first brought it up, it was dependent on how things were going that I'd decide to drop it. I think (their position) was, more or less, that they didn't know what it would look like if I dropped it, because they didn't know what my right-hand swing was going to look like and how it could be an asset to the team. But just the numbers continuing to be what they were, and showing the team the work that I put in to become a left-hand only hitter, they had a little more confidence in my approach, and I prepared to go from there.
What do you make of your success as a left-handed batter?
Yeah, I honestly expected to have some form of learning curve. I did have full confidence that I was going to have competitive at-bats. I didn't know, with the results, what was going to happen, but I knew I was going to have to work hard. The results have been amazing. It's just a matter of continuing to put in that same work to keep it going.
You were 9-for-11 bunting for hits in 2020, and you’re 3-for-6 this season. Did bunting have something to do with how you helped turn yourself around after getting sent down in 2019?
I was having a lot of issues with my swing at the time, and that was an opportunity for me to utilize my speed to try to find a way to get on base and do that which puts pressure on the defense. I laid down a ton of bunts last year that helped us get rallies going and helped move guys over. And now that I fully incorporated my swing into the mix as well, my bunting is even more of a threat because it's hard to tell when I'm going to try it. It's something that I work on, and it's definitely come along. I didn't always consider myself to be an amazing bunter, but I continue to work on it.
Now that you are a power hitter, basically, is it hard to go back to bunting?
(Shakes head) See, it's me trying to have the mindset of a power hitter that'll mess with me. (Laughs) That'll mess with me, because the moment I think I'm a power hitter is when I start messing up in terms of my swing approach. I always want to take what's given to me, and if they're giving me a bunt opportunity, I'm going to take it.
Are you going to be on the next Orioles team that makes the playoffs?
Yes, we have a lot of great guys coming through, plus a lot of good guys here. We also have a lot of guys who are working to make themselves into good guys, and I hope to be a part of it when it happens.
You're not too far from the average height of the typical American, maybe like an inch and a half shorter. But do you feel short as a baseball player? Because everybody else is 6-1.
I've been around tall guys my entire life, so to me they're eye level. (Laughs) So it's just a matter of going out there and seeing myself not in terms of size that's that different. I feel like I'm a pretty strong dude. But you know, it's funny. You say the average American is the same height as me, so they'll be able to say what they want while I'm out there playing my game.