A Star is Born

In just two years, Cedric Mullins went from struggling minor leaguer to Major League All-Star, Baltimore’s MVP and a member of baseball’s exclusive 30-30 Club

Just two years ago, Cedric Mullins was a Major League afterthought. Called up by the Baltimore Orioles in 2018, Mullins struggled in his second season with the team in 2019, hitting just .094 before being sent back to Triple-A (and eventually Double-A), where he continued to struggle.

The O’s gave Mullins another shot in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, and he rebounded to hit a modest .271 and earn a little Gold Glove consideration for his work on defense. He entered 2021 as the starting centerfielder with a lot of potential for a young Baltimore team looking for leadership.

Nobody predicted what Mullins did next — the former Fighting Camel had a season that would go down as one of the best put together by a Baltimore Oriole in the franchise’s storied history.

Mullins became Baltimore’s first-ever 30/30 man (only the 43rd in Major League history), with exactly 30 homers and 30 stolen bases to go along with a .291 batting average and an .878 OPS. He finished in the Top 10 in the American League in hits, doubles, stolen bases and total bases, and was the only player this season in all of baseball to record two five-hit games — on April 4 against the Red Sox and June 5 against the Indians.

Perhaps the biggest thrill for the young centerfielder was being named a starter in the American League All-Star Game in July. In two plate appearances, Mullins reached base on an error and scored a run in the AL’s 5-2 win.

The Snellville, Georgia, native became the first former Fighting Camel named to an All-Star team since Jim Perry’s seasons with the Indians in 1961 and the Twins in 1970 and 1971; and Gaylord Perry’s five All-Star games in 1966, 1970, 1972, 1974 and 1979 with the Giants, Indians and Padres.

Mullins spent one season in Buies Creek in 2015, hitting .340 with 23 doubles, seven triples and four home runs for a Camel team that went 35-25.

In October, just a few weeks after the end of his historic season, Mullins talked to Campbell Magazine about his quick climb from struggling minor leaguer to All-Star, the most memorable parts of his 2021 campaign and what’s next in his young career.

Photos by Todd Olszewski / Baltimore Orioles

The season just ended for Baltimore, and you’ve had a few weeks now for this 2021 season to sink in. How do you put into words what you’ve experienced this season?

I describe it as exciting, first. I always felt like I had the potential of doing great things at the highest level. I just knew I had to keep learning and making adjustments for a full season. Now that the season’s over, yeah, I’ve had some time to reflect on it and hopefully create a new plan on how to replicate it.

You were selected to the All-Star game, which is big in and of itself, but then you learned you would be starting because of an injury to Mike Trout. What part of that whole experience is going to stick with you the most?

Just being around the best in the game. Being around those guys, I’ll never forget it. There were a lot of young guys there like myself just trying to make a name, but the veterans who’ve been at it for a long time, I got to have conversations with them and learn a lot about who they are and their daily routines. How they go about their business and have fun playing this game. Getting a chance to just be a part of this game and be among those caliber of players was exciting.

Did any players in particular impress you the most?

Growing up in Georgia, I was a huge fan of the National League — the guys on the other side now. I loved [Atlanta Braves first baseman] Freddie Freeman, and on the AL side, [Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter] Nelson Cruz has been at it a long time. He’s been in the game 20 years now, and I’ve loved watching how he goes about his business. What I learned is that we’re all human at the end of the day, and a lot of these guys are a lot more personable and approachable than you would think.

It’s been brought up a lot in stories about you about your struggles just two years ago in the minor leagues and the jump to where you are today. What changed for you this past season that made it all come together?

Yeah, 2019 led to a few adjustments. During that offseason, I just put all my focus into getting better. Going into 2020, it was just a matter of getting the reps in. Making those adjustments. Changing my leg kick at the plate. Working on my timing and rhythm. When I got sent down, I was getting more consistent at-bats, I was hitting every day and staying in shape. I worked hard waiting to get called up. Everything started to click at that point — I just had to replicate it at the next level. I think 2020 was a decent season, and it was due to me being more efficient with my swing. I stopped switch-hitting and stuck with batting left-handed. That was huge, too, because it helped me focus. 

Did the empty stadiums in 2020 help you focus at all at the plate?

I think there were some benefits to not having fans in the stands. I mean, it stunk because you didn’t have that atmosphere that you want and the vibe you get being in a big league stadium.  It was totally different. But it did allow me to focus without having to hear the chatter all around me. It was just me vs. the pitcher, and it helped me regain my focus.

Your 30/30 season was an important milestone for Orioles fans, and they were excited to see you get it. You’re only the 43rd player in Major League history to do it — how important was this milestone for you personally?

It’s crazy. Every time I hear the fact that only 43 people have done it in the history of the game, it’s pretty cool to be a part of that. Now, I don’t look at it as being satisfied. It makes me want to get better. My work ethic is through the roof right now, because I’m thinking about how I can follow up next year and be better. I’ll take the confidence of being a 30/30 guy into next year and try to do it all again. I just want to be consistent.

Camel fans will continue to follow your success because of your year in Buies Creek. Even though it was just the one season, what impact did your time at Campbell have on you and what role did the experience have in you becoming the player you are today?

One thing I always was and still am as a player is coachable. I was kind of nervous when I first got to Campbell, because there was a new coaching staff, and guys were going to other schools. I’m thankful that I stayed loyal to Campbell in that moment. Under Coach Haire and the other guys, they were able to create a family environment. I was able to have a pretty decent season there, and I’ll continue to back them up and support them. I was able to take what I learned at Campbell and take it to the next level.

Ryan Thompson’s another Camel in the big leagues [Tampa Bay Rays]. Do you keep up with any other former Camels?

I got to meet Ryan once in college. He was already drafted at that point, but he visited us. I’ve had lunch with him a few times in the bigs — we sit down, talk, reminisce a little bit about our experiences at Campbell. On the field, he’s a fierce competitor. I’ve also heard a lot about Matthew Barefoot [who hit 20 home runs and stole 21 bases for Double-A Corpus Christi this season], and he’s going to do big things. I try to keep up with him and other Camels in the minors.

Finally, you’re from Georgia, and as we speak, the Braves are in the World Series. As an Oriole, are you allowed to root for another team?

I’d say, yeah, I’m pulling for the Braves. I was always a Braves fan, and I went to a fair amount of games when I was a kid and remember seeing Freddie play a lot. I’m rooting for him, definitely.


Billy Liggett Editor, Campbell Magazine

This article is related to: