Pitching in the Southeastern Conference is reserved for the best of the best. When Hayden Mullins signed his letter of intent to continue his baseball career at Auburn University, he immediately etched his name as one of the best to ever come out of Sumner County and Hendersonville High School.
Mullins was tabbed as the No. 2 overall player in Tennessee coming out of high school and was rated the No. 38 overall player and No. 4 left-handed pitcher in the 2019 class by Perfect Game.
He was more than ready to start his legacy.
Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mullins never got his opportunity to showcase his talent throughout the 2020 season.
Mullins made four relief appearances and posted a 1-0 record with a 3.68 ERA. He struck out 10 batters and issued six walks in 7 1/3 innings. Mullins struck out a season-high four batters in 1 2/3 innings vs. UCF (Feb. 23). He earned his win after throwing 1 1/3 perfect innings with a pair of strikeouts vs. Alabama A&M (Feb. 26). He did not allow a run in his next two outings vs. Wright State (March 1) and Wofford (March 11), pitching a season-high 2 2/3 innings vs. the Terriers.
He attributes his early success to getting on campus during the summer after his senior year.
“I would not have been nearly as prepared if I had my whole summer in Hendersonville,” Mullins said. “Because of the training, taking two classes, and being in that environment every day, I was ready and took full advantage of it.”
Mullins took a theatre and history class before getting two weeks off at the end of summer to come home and relax. Those two weeks off would be his last break until Christmas.
Following a fall season of fall ball and inter-squad scrimmages, Mullins focused on making the travel roster. The NCAA allows roster sizes 35 during home games, but only allows 27 players to travel.
“Making the travel roster was my goal because I knew I needed to pitch in as many games as I could and make my opportunities count,” he said.
The team started with 22 straight home games before the pandemic ended the season, so Mullins never knew if he would make the 27 man list.
“In just three days we went from playing to having the SEC tell us they banned all competition,” he recalled. “It hurt not getting into SEC play because we felt confident with what we could do as a team.”
Mullins will receive an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic but is still unsure what he wants to do with that time.
Since leaving AU, Mullins has been back in Hendersonville training for his return.
“I am staying on the same schedule that I was on at Auburn,” he said. “I have equipment at home that is very accessible. I feel bad for those who cannot access some of the things I have, but for me, everything has been the same.”
Well… Almost everything.
“The nutrition has been the hardest,” he said. “I am eating well, but at AU, we had a nutritionist, and that made things so much easier. Nutrition goes a long way in our training, and it is harder when you do not have that.”
The 6’0 lefty is taking a break from throwing. He was not planning on playing summer ball with Auburn this year - electing to let his arm continue to rest and heal from a left arm injury sustained in high school. Instead, he will focus on taking more classes online and try to bulk up and get ready for the next season.
“I got up to 192 pounds, but it was bad weight,” he explained. “By winter, I trimmed down to 185, but it was the best weight of my life. I felt great about the way I was moving. I want to get back to my original weight, but it has to be a better weight. I need to move functionally and throw as hard as I can with the most movement and spin.”
In order to do that, Mullins says he must stretch daily and stay mobile. He also adds that his legs are an essential part of his body.
“I need to build my body from the ground up and have a strong base if I want to succeed,” he said. “If I do not put the force needed into the ground that will not transfer to my upper body and allow me to throw as hard as I need or get the spin I want.”
Mullins is still working on his range of what to throw and when to throw it but says he will always count on his curveball if he needs an out.
He learned that batters in the SEC require a better pitch arsenal than those at the high school level.
“Day one, I learned the hard way that the hitters in the SEC are on a different level,” he recalled. ” I am throwing to Ryan Bliss, and I give up a nuke, and I think to myself, ‘this is a different game. I have to learn how to pitch.’”
Once Mullins returns to campus, it will be strictly businesses to make up for the time lost and to show that he belongs.
“Auburn has one of the best pitching staffs not just in the SEC but the entire country,” he said. “I need to earn my spot, and it is all about me putting in the work to where I can earn those opportunities to see the field.”