When MLB announced the 3 finalists for the AL 2017 Rookie of the Year award Monday not many were surprised by some of the names on the list. Before the 2017 season started many baseball pundits and experts put out lists of who they expect to win awards such as MVP, CY Young, and Rookie of the Year. If you go back and look at some of the projections you will not see a very diverse list with finalist Andrew Benintendi of the Boston Red Sox appearing in a majority of them as the favorite to win the award entering the season. Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees appeared on a few of the lists too as a top five finisher for the award. The third candidate though; well he was never listed. His name is Joseph Anthony “Trey” Mancini of the Baltimore Orioles. It was not too shocking he was left off of many of these lists to start the season because no one was even sure he would make the roster heading into the season. So how did Mancini go from roster uncertainty to a finalist for Rookie of the Year?
One of the biggest problems opposing Mancini heading into the 2017 season was not whether he was worthy of making it; having proved in spring training, the minors, and during his short major league stint in 2016 he was ready; the question was where would he play? In college and the minors Mancini was a first baseman, a position that is currently filled by Chris Davis for the foreseeable future and the DH position was blocked with the re-signing on Mark Trumbo. So the Orioles opted to try and transition Mancini from first base to the outfield over spring training. With Mancini changing to a position he had never played before; there was a feeling Mancini was going to be sent down to AAA to start the season while he refined his outfield ability. Mancini’s bat would not let that happen. Leading the team with 14 RBIs, Mancini batted .354 in Spring Training with 3 home runs helping him to secure a spot on the Orioles opening day roster.
Now that Mancini had made the opening day roster he needed the opportunity to seize the everyday role. To start the season it seemed as Mancini might just serve in a platoon role with fellow outfielders Hyun Soo Kim and Joey Rickard fighting each other for playing time. Mancini started the season a little cold batting .216 with 5 home runs and 12 RBIs in 51 at bats in April. May was a different story as Mancini hit .342 with 2 home runs and another 12 RBIs and by the end of the month it was clear the position was Mancini’s for the taking. His bat would only get hotter in June as it proved to be his best month of the season when he batted .340 with 7 home runs and 19 RBIs. So how does Mancini’s season stack up against Judge’s and Benintendi’s? Mancini went on to finish the year with a .293 batting average which was higher than both Judge’s (.284) and Benintendi’s (.271). Mancini had 24 home runs while Benintendi hit 20 and Judge mashed 52. It is in the RBI department that Mancini falls behind in having only driven in 78 runs compared to Judge who drove in 114 and Benintendi driving in 90.
Trey Mancini’s highlight game of 2017 came in a game in which he was not in the starting lineup. On June 7 Mancini came in to pinch hit for Seth Smith with the Orioles trailing 6-4 against the Pirates. With a runner on second Mancini launched a pinch hit game tying home run to right field on a 2-2 pitch to tie the game. His night was not over yet though as he came up to bat in the bottom of the 11 with no outs and 2 runners on, Mancini wasted no time in walking the game off for the Orioles blasting a 3 run home run on the first pitch he saw to win the game and complete the comeback. This was the first time in Orioles history that a player had hit a pinch hit and a walk-off homerun in the same game.
On April 17, 2017 Mancini hit his 7th home run tying the record for most home runs in a players first 12 games with Trevor Story (2016) and Dino Restelli (1949). This did not all occur in 2017 as Mancini appeared in 5 games in 2016 homering in his second at bat. He went on to hit 2 more in that span to contribute to the record.
Even with Mancini making waves with an impressive rookie season he is still being disregarded when it comes to his future as he was left off an MLB.com article in September ranking 30 rookie players with the best long term potential. Mancini has dealt with the doubt before. Trey Mancini was never a highly touted prospect peaking as the Orioles 5th top prospect and never making a top 100 prospect list before being called up. Mancini was drafted with the 23rd pick in round 8 (pick 249 overall) in the 2013 MLB out of college where he played for Notre Dame where he won the 2011 BIG EAST Rookie of the Year award. In 2015 while playing for the Bowie Baysox, the Orioles AA affiliate, Mancini hit .359 for the Baysox in 89 games but was 29 plate appearances shy of being considered for the league batting title. Due to a league rule however he was able to take a 0-29 to add enough plate appearances to win the award finishing with a .330 adjusted average. Mancini has hit well at every level in the minors and it continued over to his first season with the Orioles.
When the winner of the awards are announced on November 13th hearing any other name announced as the winner of the AL Rookie of the Year besides Aaron Judge will be a shock and people will probably storm the streets in New York. The year Mancini had though was still nothing short of amazing and probably would have netted him the award in most other seasons.
For a player who’s constantly been overlooked, who was not a lock for a roster spot entering spring training, and had to adjust to life in a new position while continuing to produce at the plate; the future is looking increasingly bright for the Trey Mancini. With a season under his belt and an off season to prepare his defense in left should improve. If Mancini can keep improving and making adjustments at the pro level as he has done before in the minors we can expect to see him continue to appear listed for more award considerations. If Mancini performs the same next year as he did this year there will be no more ignoring him. Much like Machado and Schoop before him, Trey Mancini will be the next Oriole sensation.
(Photo Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports)