Focused strictly on baseball throughout his childhood, Orioles’ prospect Cedric Mullins took a unique path to becoming the team’s 13th round selection in the 2015 First-Year Players Draft. Mullins, a 5-foot-8-inch center fielder, currently bats leadoff for the Aberdeen Ironbirds on a daily basis as he ventures into his career in professional baseball.
The game of baseball was always the top priority in Mullins’ mind, as he recalls the holiday season he experienced at the age of three. “Around Christmas,” Mullins remembered, “my aunt and uncle got me a mini plastic golf club set, back when Tiger Woods was doing his thing [in 1997]. 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.”
Growing up in suburban Snellville, Georgia, with two younger siblings, Mullins’ attention was on baseball. Opposed to many prospects who come up having played a selection of sports through high school, Mullins held steady on the diamond as his primary passion. Trying out for football one season, he saw players getting badly hurt, and “didn’t feel like risking it.”
“I knew I wanted to [play baseball] from the jump,” Mullins noted. “I was playing baseball, and finally just decided to stick with it.”
Despite getting bits of attention from Division I programs as a junior looking to be recruited to play college ball, scouts soon recognized that Mullins was actually not a starter on his team at Brookwood High School. “As soon as they realized that, they kind of fell off the table,” Mullins recalled, “and I was going into my senior year [of high school] without a clue of where I wanted to play baseball.” It wasn’t until the World Wood Bat Classic in Jupiter, Florida, that the coaching staff at Louisburg College noticed Mullins. He recollected that, “After senior year, going into summer still trying to find a school … I had a decent showing there, and they asked if I had ever considered a junior college. At the time, not really, but it definitely seemed like a good option.”
Getting Over The Hump At Campbell
Following his time as part of the two-year program at Louisville, where he hit .417 as a sophomore, Mullins sought a destination that would allow him to concentrate on his schoolwork and baseball activities. That’s when Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina, came into play.
Justin Haire, an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Campbell at the time, saw multiple tools in Mullins’ arsenal that he wanted to add to the Camels roster. “Obviously, he’s a plus defender in center field and I think at any level, to get guys that can defend up the middle of the field is imperative,” Haire opined. “You throw in the fact that the guy can hit the ball out of the yard but he can also steal 25-30 bases for you, that gives you some versatility, especially for our program that likes to run and gun a bit. He was high up on our priority list.”
The Camels went on to reach the championship round of the Big South Conference Tournament, and Mullins played an integral part of that feat, plating a team-high 59 runs while recording 34 extra-base hits during the campaign.
“It was funny because as soon as I went to [Louisburg], the coaches that recruited me, they left,” Mullins quipped. “And then as soon as I committed to Campbell, the head coach and one of the assistant coaches left from there, too. After that happened, I got some calls from [other] programs, like UNC-Chapel Hill, Clemson. But at the time, I was just like, I made my decision and I’m going to stick with it. And it turned out to be beneficial.”
Haire took over as the head coach at Campbell prior to the 2015 season, and Mullins went on to earn multiple accolades following his strong showing, including Second Team All-Big South and Atlantic ABCA/Rawlings All-Region Second Team.
Determining His Draft Potential
It didn’t hit Mullins until after his sophomore year at Louisburg that he had promise to be a potential future draft pick into professional baseball. He continued to attend showcases to keep his name and skill set relevant in the eyes of scouts, and things began to click from there. “I had a dull moment where I thought, hey, baseball might not work out and we might have to figure out a plan B. But I just kept at it, stayed diligent to my work ethic,” Mullins remarked. “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.”
Expectations leading up to the draft varied, as Mullins knew about the business side of the draft while others around him insisted that he was going to be a high round pick. Dealing with scouts pushing him to reveal what he was willing to take bonus-wise in different rounds, Mullins shared that it was an anxiety-ridden process more than anything, capped off by hearing his name called on day three of the draft.
There was no big party in store for Mullins on June 10, the final day of the draft when teams rattled off their selections for rounds 11 through 42. In fact, Mullins sat on his own at home in Georgia that day, as he laughed, “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.” After waking up early and “praying that someone would pick me up earlier so that I wouldn’t have to keep my face glued to the board” all day, Mullins eventually heard his name called 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.”
Mullins didn’t sit still for much time after that long-awaited moment, however. He got a call within moments from the Orioles organization congratulating him and letting him know a few details as to the next steps in the process. After signing promptly at slot value, Mullins waited no more than a couple of days before hearing about his flight information, as he was brought swiftly up to Aberdeen and put up in a hotel across the street from the Ripken Experience complex.
Adjusting To The Professional Ranks
Headed toward the end of the Ironbirds season, Mullins has already played more games in the professional ranks than he did during his entire senior season at Campbell. With the grueling schedule comes further adjustments, as he indicated, “The bus rides [in college] might not be as long, I’ve never traveled eight hours on a bus before. That was something I definitely had to adjust to on the fly. We showed up at a hotel at five in the morning, and I’m waking up on the bus and I see daylight again, and I’m like okay, this is definitely crazy.”
The atmosphere at this level has treated Mullins well, though. In a sports world of high expectations and multi-faceted pressure, he has found the environment to be relaxed. “They emphasize that from this point on it’s small developments that we’re working on. You don’t necessarily have to take 100 extra swings after a game, they don’t like that. You’re just tiring yourself out when you have to play the next day and the day after that.”
Playing under Aberdeen’s new manager Luis Pujols, Mullins has found that, at least for the first few weeks, “they want the newer guys to just play their game. They want to see what they have.” Knowing that many of the players on the roster are recently coming off of lengthy college seasons, the staff has pushed him and his teammates to relax and take care of their bodies for the long term.
Mullins is finding his way after 238 at bats, posting a .252 average with a pair of home runs and 20 RBI with Aberdeen. Contributing a speed element as well, Mullins has stolen 16 bases while only being caught twice. As multiple scouts noted following Mullins’ performances at Lowell earlier in the season, he brings plus-speed to the leadoff spot, which in turn also propels him to cover a lot of ground in center field. Baserunning abilities are nothing new to Mullins’ game, as he stole 23 bases last year at Campbell and was 55-for-59 in stolen base attempts in two years at Louisburg.
Professional Beyond The Diamond
Whether on the field or off, Mullins consistently gives off a positive vibe to those around him, maintaining a good-natured and well-mannered persona at all times. Though noted as being quiet and reserved, Mullins has left a high-quality impression on those around him in his baseball past.
Coaching him through his recent season at Campbell, Haire shared that Mullins’ level-headedness made him a likeable character to people in all facets of the college program. “I think all of the guys really loved him. I think the coaching staff really enjoyed working with him on and off the field. He’s just an all-around guy that you hope your son will grow up to be like, because he’s excellent in the classroom, he takes care of business, he stays out of trouble.”
Haire went on to share one anecdote of his experience with Mullins, commenting that, “My nephews come up to visit from Atlanta, big Braves fans, they called me after Cedric got drafted and said, “Hey, did you know that the Orioles are my new favorite team,” just because that’s how he carries himself. My son is two years old and I’ve got video of him saying, “Get a hit Mullins.” That’s just the kind of presence that he commands, he’s just one of those guys that makes such a positive impression.”
Mullins’ former teammates share in these sentiments. Steven Leonard, the Camels starting catcher this past season and a 23rd round pick by the Colorado Rockies, contended that, “[Nobody] would have one bad thing to say about him. He was a very hard worker, helped push me as well. Love the guy.”
Mullins is the first to admit that the way he carries himself dates back to his younger days and a message passed on to him from a youth league mentor. “There was one coach when I was about 11-years-old, and he continuously drilled this in my head,” Mullins explained. “He just wanted me to be professional in everything I did. When it came to baseball all the way down to just talking to somebody in a normal conversation. Be professional about it. Carry yourself in a way that people will respect you. When it all comes down to it, that you made a name for yourself in a positive manner.”
Heath Bowers, a right-handed pitcher for the Camels and the eventual 24th round pick by the Oakland Athletics, disclosed that Mullins “was an outstanding guy and a great teammate. He opened up and was a lot of fun to be around as we got to know each other more.”
Bowers and Mullins chatted about the draft throughout their season, and connected later on draft day to congratulate one another and discuss their experiences with it.
The two went on to share an unparalleled moment in Vermont back on June 24. As Bowers was set to make his debut that day as the Lake Monsters were hosting the Ironbirds, Mullins became the first batter Bowers faced in his professional career.
“He won that battle,” Bowers joked, “with a bunt single. That just goes to show how frustrating Cedric is to pitch to. He can do it all. Players with his abilities are great to play with and rough to play against.
With a wealth of opportunities sitting in front of Mullins, levels of the minor leagues just waiting for his contributions, he has high aspirations of where his career path may take him.
“I definitely see myself on the 40-man roster,” he exclaimed. “Everyone has to see themselves at that point. To keep that goal on the forefront of your mind, that definitely pushes you every single day.”
Defense, however, will be the weapon that helps propel Mullins to take each next step.
“I know that the guy could have left here and gone to play in the outfield for the Baltimore Orioles tomorrow,” Haire pointed out about his former outfielder. “That’s one thing about him, just from a defensive standpoint, he was ready. He is ready. You can’t say that about a lot of guys coming out of college that they could go and roam around the outfield with a bunch of big leaguers.”
Scouts have noted his premium defensive abilities since he started college, and it has been noted that these skills include both range and arm, the two paramount tools to sticking in center field as the levels progress.
“It needs to be noted,” Bowers interjected, “that he is one of the best center fielders that I have ever seen. His range is tremendous and he has a knack for making the toughest plays look easy. It was a blessing to have him roaming center field for us [at Campbell].”
“I take a lot of pride in my defense,” Mullins quipped. “If there’s a ball in the gap, even if people think it’s impossible to get that, I always say it’s in my game to get that ball.”
As for a potential career ceiling for Mullins, he is certainly aware that three-time MVP and 10-time All Star Albert Pujols was also a 13th round selection, taken by the St. Louis Cardinals back in the 1999 Amateur Draft –
“Hey, if he can do it, he was picked in the 13th round, and look where he is now. Anything is possible.
Ryan Blake contributed to this article