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The Orioles’ accidental slugger

Before the season began, Trey Mancini was not on too many people’s radars; now, he has more homers than singles. Unfortunately, the Orioles don’t have a place for him to play.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, Orioles first baseman/designated hitter Trey Mancini logged only five games and came to the dish fifteen times. He arrived with little fanfare, and never was featured prominently on any prospect rankings. Despite the quiet ascension to the majors, this year has seen the righty make a big splash in Baltimore, forcing Buck Showalter’s to try to find him plate appearances.

Drafted in the eighth round of the 2013 draft, Mancini has played across multiple levels of the O’s organization. His ascension through the minors was slow and steady; he logged at least 68 games at every minor league level and made his debut last season. The book on Mancini was pretty clear: he’s a terrible defender who can hit some, and has a bit of pop in his bat. While no one projected him to be an All Star, the general consensus was that he’d be a fine below-average regular or bat off the bench.

So far in 2017, he has been as productive a hitter as nearly any superstar in the league, but the Orioles are having a tough time getting him every day playing time. They’re in a bit of a bind with (massive overpay) Chris Davis entrenched as the first baseman and Mark Trumbo as the designated hitter. It’s highly unlikely that Mancini is some 40-home run power slugger, but the O’s will never know for sure if they keep taking plate appearances away from him. He sat again earlier this week simply because there’s no place to put him in the lineup. Regardless, when he has played, he’s been exceptional.

Through 13 games and only 41 plate appearances, Mancini has hit five home runs and slugged .667 with an isolated power of .410(!). Going back to last season, he has so far hit eight home runs in his first 18 career games. These are unworldly numbers, and no one expects him to keep up this pace, obviously, but given how successful his season has been so far, it demands we take notice.

On a raw talent level, Mancini is strong... very strong! His exit velocity this season so far has been 91.3 MPH, so he’s been able to translate that strength into in-game power. He’s making good contact, as nearly 90 percent of his batted balls are classified as medium-hit or hard-hit.

One thing Mancini is certainly excelling at right now is attacking pitches in the zone, and not making contact on pitches outside the zone. His current o-contact% is 42.9 percent; for comparison, league average is around 62-63 percent. This may induce more swings-and-misses, but it also limits lousy contact on pitches he can’t possibly square-up for extra bases.

A look at his ISO chart from Brooks Baseball shows that Mancini has done almost all of his extra-base damage on pitches up and in:

The next step will undoubtedly be for pitchers to start attacking him more creatively. In a game against the Red Sox on Sunday, he struck out in three of four plate appearances, and saw a number of sliders and changeups low and away. Mancini has shown he’s capable of real power; soon, he’ll have to show he can adjust, too.

Mancini’s emergence onto the power-hitting scene is probably more fluke than anything else. He’s running a near-32 percent strikeout rate and seems to have sold out his average/below-average hit tool for more power. It’s not a bad move if he’s looking to become a one-dimensional player, but while players like Chris Carter make rosters, they don’t become every day players. The Trey Mancini ride is fun for now, but it seems unlikely to last.

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Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano