Baltimore's Do-It-All Star Is Set to Shake Up the AL East
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because Trey Mancini has been one of baseball’s brightest young stars — without the name recognition.
By Matt Foley
If professional sports drafting is a science, Major League Baseball selections have a precision more akin to meteorology than chemistry. So, while baseball’s weathermen were spot-on in forecasting 2013 first-round picks Kris Bryant and Aaron Judge, another major league star in the making is more difficult to locate when perusing the draft board.
Trey Mancini is the anti-Judge. The Oriole looks the part of an average baseball player and has, thus far, overshot early expectations while avoiding the national spotlight. But after a breakout first season that saw Mancini place third in Rookie of the Year voting, it’s increasingly clear that the 26-year-old Notre Dame graduate is now a pillar of the Baltimore franchise. Alongside 12-year veteran outfielder Adam Jones, superstar shortstop Manny Machado and All-Star second baseman Jonathan Schoop, Mancini hopes to surprise American League East powers Boston and New York like a fast-moving summer storm.
Much like his swing, Mancini’s young career has progressed without a hitch. But the big test comes now, when he cannot hide.
But why merely improve when you can reshape your entire game in the process? One month into his second season, the former home-run-happy first baseman — nicknamed “Boom Boom,” in a nod to boxer Ray Mancini — is nailing his test as Baltimore’s new leadoff hitter and left fielder of the future. “No one outworks this kid,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said during spring training in Sarasota, Florida. “You can tell he works at it, and it’s a lot of fun to see the improvement.”
When Showalter invited Mancini to the player’s first major league spring training, the only problem was finding him a position. First baseman Chris Davis was coming off a 38-home-run season, so that was out of the question, and the organization had doubts about whether Mancini’s arm strength could play in the outfield. Still, when the organization’s former minor league player of the year broke out during his five-game major league debut in September 2016, it forced the club’s hand. Baltimore needed his bat, and he needed to learn the outfield.
“I want to become a complete outfielder,” says Mancini, who trained with former Orioles outfielder and current Vice President of Baseball Operations Brady Anderson. In 2017, Mancini started 87 games in the outfield — 85 in left and two in right — and another 35 games at first base, with Davis injured. “I’m getting more comfortable, working on my first step and my [defensive] routes.”
While Mancini’s capable defense provided ample hope, his track record at the plate eliminated any semblance of concern. Mancini led the team in batting average (.293), adding 24 home runs and 78 RBIs to finish behind only Judge and Boston’s Andrew Benintendi for the American League Rookie of the Year. Such a rise would have been hard to imagine just a few years earlier.
Growing up in Winter Haven, Florida, Joseph “Trey” Mancini was never far from a baseball diamond — from Cleveland Indians spring training to the Tampa Bay Rays during the season. But even after a standout prep career, Mancini was not on most professional scouts’ radar. Ditto for big-time college coaches. He went undrafted in 2010, and his best scholarship offer came from Notre Dame — a school better known for academics (and football) than baseball. For both sides, it was an easy fit. “[Mancini] understands that team-first mentality and really set an example for our program,” says Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki.
Though he didn’t start his first collegiate game as a freshman, Mancini quickly became Notre Dame’s offensive catalyst. He made three All-Big East teams in three seasons and tallied a school record 23-game hit streak. When the Orioles drafted him in the eighth round of the 2013 Draft, the formerly under-recruited player was ready to make the jump. He was also keenly aware of the 248 players drafted ahead of him — including eight by the Orioles, only one of whom has reached the majors.
After he blew through each level of minor league ball, it was no surprise that Mancini earned a late call-up to the Big Show in 2016. September call-ups, essentially, serve as placement tests to determine where to send a player the following spring. Mancini aced his with authority. He became the third player in MLB history to homer in his first three career starts — one of them off Boston All-Star David Price, no less. “That moment is something I will never forget,” he says.
Much like his swing, Mancini’s young career has progressed without a hitch. But the big test comes now, when he cannot hide. Showalter shook up the lineup after a horrid 1–4 start to the season, bumping the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Mancini up from the two-hole to leadoff — a massive change for a young hitter who made his name with power. “I don’t think Mancini necessarily wants to be an everyday leadoff hitter,” says 16-year Big Leaguer turned MLB Network analyst Mark DeRosa. “I’m sure [Showalter] has his reasons for batting him first, but I don’t think they expect him to play the small man’s game.” According to DeRosa, Mancini’s big bat could serve as more of a tone-setter for the Orioles, much like George Springer’s unorthodox leadoff role with the reigning World Series champion Houston Astros.
Overall, Mancini is embracing the new challenge. He’s hitting .252 with three home runs and a .324 on-base percentage through 31 games, trailing only Machado in batting average. With the Orioles struggling to recover from a horrid 8–25 start to the season, all of the media oxygen has been sucked up by the division rivals in New York and Boston. Still, Mancini believes Baltimore has the “depth to really make a run” as the season progresses. Will a bounce back ensue? Overlook the Orioles — and their adaptable blooming star — at your peril.