Here's a name to remember as we head into fall and winter prospect season: first baseman Trey Mancini of the Baltimore Orioles.
Mancini was a productive slugger for three years at Notre Dame, hitting .345/.405/.576 from 2011 through 2013. Scouts weren't hugely wild about him due to lack of athletic tools but his college production got him drafted in the eighth round in '13. He continued to hit in pro ball, batting .328/.382/.449 in 256 at-bats in the New York-Penn League that summer. Entering 2014, I filed the following report in the '14 edition of the Baseball Prospect Book:
SLEEPER ALERT!! The Orioles drafted Mancini in the eighth round last June from Notre Dame. He was very successful in college but scouts don’t like his defensive tools: he is slow and doesn’t throw or run well enough to play anywhere but first base. He does a good job as a hitter though, blasting New York-Penn League pitching for average and power despite college concerns that he was too much of a pull hitter. If you want to dream, think Paul Goldschmidt as the maximal outcome. Goldschmidt posted a 165 wRC+ in the Pioneer League after being drafted in the eighth round from Texas State in 2009. Mancini was at 151 wRC+ at Aberdeen, but the New York-Penn League is a more difficult environment than the Pioneer League and in context the performances are pretty similar. The scouting reports are fairly similar at the same stage, too: Goldschmidt was also critiqued for poor defense and a tendency to pull the ball too much in college. I am not saying that Mancini will turn into a star slugger like Goldschmidt, but I am saying that Goldy was very similar at the same stage of his career. It is at least plausible that Mancini will exceed expectations and become more than just an organization bat. Grade C.
That didn't pan out immediately. Mancini hit .317/.357/.422 in 268 at-bats in Low-A, which wasn't horrible, but he slumped after being promoted to High-A, batting .251/.295/.396 in 275 at-bats. Scouting reports were muted and not especially optimistic. They also didn't tally with the college reports, as he proved to be an all-field hitter with mediocre power but decent defense, not a pull power guy who hits homers but has an iron glove.
Mancini was drafted in the eighth round from Notre Dame in 2013. I rated him as a Sleeper last year and pointed out some similarities between Mancini and Paul Goldschmidt, also an eighth-round pick from a mid-rank college program, when the latter first got into pro ball. That ended up looking really stupid as Mancini went backwards last year, not forwards as Goldschmidt did in his first full campaign. Trey got off to a solid start in Low-A (wRC+118 for Delmarva) but saw his numbers slide after moving up to High-A (wRC+93 for Frederick). Casual factors include an over-aggressive hitting approach and mechanical issues with his swing that prevented full translation of his physical strength into productive power. Interestingly, he had a reputation as a pull hitter in college but in pro ball he’s hit to all fields, even when struggling. On the positive side, Mancini is a reliable defender at first base with more mobility than you’d expect given his size, frame, and lack of running speed. It is too soon to give up on Mancini but he’s clearly not going to be as good as Goldschmidt. Grade C.
Mancini returned to High-A to open 2015 and exploded, hitting .313/.341/.527 in 207 at-bats, wRC+ 150. Promoted to Double-A Bowie, he got even hotter in the second half, batting .359/.400/.586 in 326 at-bats, his wRC+ an incredible 180. Overall he hit .341/.375/.563 with 43 doubles, 21 homers, 31 walks and 93 strikeouts in 533 at-bats.
Whoa. Now that Goldschmidt thing doesn't look so dumb. Goldy's wRC+ in his first season in Double-A was 178.
What happened? Mechanical changes to Mancini's swing were the main thing: "Instead of his old spread-out, lower stance, Mancini went more upright and narrow when digging in at the plate, allowing him to work more on balancing his load and his separation" according to MiLB.com. Mancini also reports feeling more relaxed at the plate. A look at the spray charts reveals more home run power to the pull side this year, although in general Trey still hits to all fields.
With Chris Davis possibly leaving Baltimore via free agency, the Orioles could have a spot open in the lineup. Christian Walker is ahead of Mancini on the first base prospect depth chart, but Walker's Triple-A season was erratic and he's not a slam-dunk favorite. If Mancini can maintain his present production at higher levels, he could snare the job for himself.
Will he be as good as Goldschmidt? Probably not, but there are enough parallels that we can't dismiss the notion completely although it would be a maximal outcome. Can Mancini be good enough to be a productive regular first baseman? That seems much more likely than it did a year ago.