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Orioles prospect Ryan Mountcastle talks red-hot start in 2017

Ryan Mountcastle is only in Frederick, but it’s a real possibility that one of the best prospects in the Orioles system will see big-league time in the near future.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s one prospect in the Orioles system who deserves a bit more attention than he currently receives, it’s probably Ryan Mountcastle. The 2015 first-round selection is still working at shortstop in A-ball, but there’s a chance he won’t be waiting much longer to get his opportunity in The Show.

You probably know Mountcastle as “that young guy who might be J.J. Hardy’s replacement in the future”, and you’re not misguided if that’s what you know. That’s exactly who he could be. And taking into consideration both Hardy and Mountcastle’s recent performances, it’s possible that the gap between the two’s time manning the shortstop for the Birds is tightening.

After a 2016 season – his first full year in Minor League Baseball at age 19 – in which he hit .281 with 10 HRs and a modest .319 on-base percentage, the 6’3” middle infielder has clearly taken steps forward in his game at the dish. In a healthy sample size of 131 at-bats, Mountcastle is slashing .305/.338/.542 with seven home runs and 10 doubles on the year.

According to the right-handed hitter, the progression has been exciting to see take place, especially with his boost in power numbers.

“So far, I’m swinging a decent bat. I feel good at the plate, and I’m just trying not to do too much obviously. I’m letting the pitches come to me, swinging at good pitches, leaving off the bad ones,” he said, continuing to speak on his early spike in power. “I put in the work in the offseason with the strength training and swinging the bat... I’m just getting older and the power is starting to come which is pretty cool to see.”

Considering Mountcastle is just 20 years old, the surge in slugging percentage shouldn’t be surprising. He was listed at 180 pounds entering the 2015 MLB Draft, a number that is up to 195 in 2017.

The young shortstop likely isn’t done progressing in terms of power. And if his early-season performance is any indication, he could be quickly becoming one of the better all-around bats in the Orioles system.

Single-A pitching is still single-A pitching, but the calm and collected Mountcastle doesn’t seem terribly thrown off by the jump from Delmarva to the Carolina League in Frederick in 2017. With an OPS that has risen over 130 points, he’s easy to believe when he says he’s feeling as confident as ever at the dish.

Perhaps the numbers that pop most when analyzing his full body of work is the comparison of his stats against both righties and lefties. The numbers below are rather encouraging, especially for a prospect of Mountcastle’s age and experience.

Ryan Mountcastle Splits

Season vs. RHP vs. LHP
Season vs. RHP vs. LHP
2016 .248/.282/.407 (339 AB) .379/.425/.483 (116 AB)
2017 .319/.354/.553 (94 AB) .270/.300/.514 (37 AB)

“You face a lot more righties it seems like, and you eventually get used to all the different pitches that they try to throw you. Righties and lefties, they’re both throwing a ball and you just have to hit it,” Mountcastle said. “I just go up to the plate and try to feel confident up there and no matter who is on the mound – righty, lefty, tall or short – it’s just trying to hit the ball hard.”

The fact that he went 44-116 against left-handers last year really pops, even at a level in which the pitching isn’t exactly polished. It’s difficult to argue against his production on paper, especially when all in-person accounts have seemed to note Mountcastle’s progression across the diamond.

Now, anyone can look at these numbers and talk themselves out of the idea that Mountcastle could be closing in on big-league time sooner than later, but it’s important to understand the reality of the situation. Do you remember the reports out of winter camp in which the Orioles seemed to be paying special attention to Mountcastle and his continued development at shortstop?

Orioles director of player development had a pretty glowing review in Eduardo Encina’s offseason Mountcastle update story, one that shed light on the offseason program that the Orioles had the young shortstop going through.

The between-the-lines messages seem to indicate that the organization doesn’t picture Mountcastle in High-A ball for too long in 2017. And when asked about where he feels in the field after the offseason, there was no hesitation in confidence in the young prospect’s answers.

“I feel a lot quicker,” Mountcastle said of his play in the field. “I’m getting to balls that I’m not really used to getting to and making strong throws. I feel great at short and am pretty confident out there…

“Overall, I’m just trying to play a lot harder and trying to take my game to the next level whether it’s taking a lot of ground balls before the game, or taking extra BP. It’s stuff like that just trying to get ready and perform every day.”

We’ll have to keep an eye on his nightly performances to get a feel for how quickly Mountcastle could be rising up the organization. At the end of the day though, if there’s one candidate to be projected to make a significant leap in the near future, the best shortstop in the system is a safe bet.

Who knows – maybe the Mountcastle jerseys will be filling up the shelves ahead of Opening Day in 2018.