His performance flew somewhat under the radar — that can happen when you play for a team that loses 108 games — but Trey Mancini had a fantastic 2019 season. Quietly crushing as one the game’s most-underrated hitters, the Baltimore Orioles outfielder/first baseman slashed .291/.364/.535, with 38 doubles and 35 home runs. Mancini’s 322 total bases were sixth most in the junior circuit, while his 132 wRC+ was higher than that of Nolan Arenado, Ronald Acuña Jr., Bryce Harper, and numerous other notables.
The 27-year-old University of Notre Dame product discussed his breakout, and his hitting approach as a whole, on the final weekend of his third full major league season.
David Laurila: You’ve obviously stepped up your game. What’s different this year?
Trey Mancini: “I think the biggest change, especially from the first half of  to this year… I’d gotten to the point where I was almost obsessed with what I was doing mechanically. I’d become way too concerned with what was going on in my swing — where my hands were, and all that — and if you’re thinking about those things at the plate, the ball is going to be whizzing right by you. So I’ve pretty much eliminated any thought of the physical. Now it’s just pitch selection.”
Laurila: That said, hitters sometimes do need to make meaningful physical adjustments.
Mancini: “That’s what your offseason work is. If you’re working on any physical changes to your swing, it’s usually going to happen then. When you’re in the cage, even before a game, it kind of becomes subconscious. But again, once you’re up at the plate you have to eliminate any thought of what of you’re doing, and just compete. These guys are too good for you to be worried about what your swing is doing.”
Laurila: To what extent can a hitter make mechanical changes during the season?
Mancini: “Oh, you can see guys doing it. For instance, our rookie shortstop, Richie Martin, has made a big physical change this season, and it’s helped him a lot. He had a big leg kick, and I think he was also kind of like how I was last year — thinking too much about what he was doing. Our hitting coaches, Don Long and Howie Clark [Clark is no longer with the club], spread him out. He’s pretty low, with a wide base, and isn’t really striding. Now he’s seeing the ball better and making much more solid contact. That’s one example of a guy making a midseason adjustment.”
Laurila: What about you? Not thinking at the plate aside, do you make in-season adjustments?
Mancini: “Oh yeah. But nothing too drastic. For instance, there are times when guys are throwing a lot of pitches inside, and I’ll find myself cheating to that. That exposes me to breaking balls away, so I have to force myself to keep my front shoulder in, and not fly open.”
Laurila: That’s getting back to where you need to be, as opposed to actually changing something.
Mancini: ”Right. And that adjustment is really more of a mentality. For me, it’s that I’m going to hit a rising liner over the right-center wall. That’s what I think about when I want to keep myself going toward the pitcher, and in the middle of the field.”
Laurila: Is that your usual approach?
Mancini: “It depends on the pitcher, but for the most part, yes. It’s kind of my base. If I’m not too familiar with the pitcher, I’ll think about a line drive… it used to be that I wanted to hit a liner over the second baseman’s head, now it’s ‘I want to hit a ball off the right-center field wall.’
“But again, it kind of depends on the pitcher. Last night, we faced Nathan Eovaldi. He has so much velocity, and a really hard cutter, so against him I’m thinking more center than right-center. Same with Aroldis Chapman. You can’t be taking an opposite field approach, or anything resembling that, against guys like that.”
Laurila: Philosophically, a line drive over the right-center field wall is notably different than a line drive over the second baseman’s head.
Mancini: “I’m definitely… the numbers don’t lie. I can still reduce it further, but I’ve reduced my groundball rate this year. That’s helped me, for sure. Going into next year, one of my goals is going to be making more hard contact with balls in the air. It’s important. More balls in the air is one of the reasons I’ve had such an improvement this year.”
Laurila: How does a hitter go about hitting fewer balls on the ground?
Mancini: “I don’t think it’s about having some sort of swing upheaval. Our swings have obviously worked for us — they’ve gotten us here — but there are little tinkers you can make. That said, I’d say it’s mostly pitch selection and timing. When I hit a groundball, it’s usually because I’m early on a breaking ball and rolled it over. Or maybe it’s a two-seam fastball that I let get too deep.”
Laurila: To some extent, hitting the ball to right-center entails letting the ball travel a little more.
Mancini: “You’re going to get pitches to hit that way. A lot of times, if you’re in a hitter’s count you’ll get a lot of pitches to drive in that right-center gap. Or, if they throw it in the inner half, you can just throw your hands at it, and adjust pretty well. But yeah, it’s about not chasing the other pitches early in the at-bat. In 2018, I’d do that a lot. This year I’ve gotten into better hitter’s counts, to where I can drive the ball to the right-center gap.”
Laurila: How have you managed to get yourself in better counts? You don’t exactly have high-profile hitters behind you.
Mancini: “As an offense, I think we’ve actually done a pretty solid job this year. But yeah, it’s mostly about being patient and not compromising my approach. You have to be willing to take your walks when you can get them. That’s something else I’ve improved on. I’ve been able to walk more, as well as cut down on strikeouts. I think that mostly comes down to playing more games at this level. With more experience, you learn how to not come out of your shoes, especially in bigger situations. You want to have team at-bats.”
Laurila: Staying within yourself is easier said than done, and balls are obviously flying this year. Do you ever find yourself thinking, even subconsciously, that you can take this pitcher deep?
Mancini: “No. If I’m thinking home run, it’s usually not going to be a good result for me. If I go up there and swing as hard as I possibly can, something is going to break down in my mechanics. I need to stay within myself. The spike in the home run rate hasn’t really effected what I’m trying to do up there.”
Laurila: Does the home run spike impact how you view the game? Not as a hitter, but rather as a fan of the game you play for a living?
Mancini: “That’s a good question. Not really. I know there are two sides to it. Some people really like the home runs, and some people don’t — they’d rather see more balls in play. I wouldn’t want to comment on the ball, or anything like that. Looking at it from a fan’s perspective, I can see it from both sides.”
Laurila: Changing direction, you told me two years ago that you go to Mark Trumbo for hitting advice. Do you still do that?
Mancini: “Oh yeah. I still talk to Trumbo all the time. I’ll come over after an at-bat and ask what he thinks. Just last night, I had an at-bat where I grounded into a double play; I basically chopped the ball right into the ground. I said, ‘What do you have on that?’ He told me it looked like my foot was getting down way too early. I always appreciate feedback, and Trumbo usually gives me a pretty straight up answer.”
Laurila: Given how young the team is, you’re probably becoming a resource yourself.
Mancini: “Chris Davis always has a lot of good advice — he’s played 10 years at this level, and that makes for a wealth of knowledge — and Jonathan Villar has more service time than me, but yeah, you’re right. Even though I’m only three years in, I’m kind of stepping into a role where I can help someone if he needs advice. Our rookies, and younger guys, haven’t faced most of these pitchers. I have, so I’ll give them what I have on the pitcher. Or maybe I’ll tell them what I saw in one of their at-bats.
“I guess I’m transitioning into that veteran role a little bit, although it’s definitely happening earlier than I would have expected. But I’m ready for it. I enjoy talking hitting, and I’ll always help one of my teammates if I can.”
Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Cavan Biggio, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Joey Gallo, Mitch Haniger, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Daniel Murphy, Drew Saylor, Fernando Tatis Jr., Justin Turner, Mark Trumbo, Luke Voit, Jesse Winker.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.