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With the Orioles a mess at third base, when should it be Ryan Mountcastle time?

With their season continually looking grim, the Orioles would be well served to promote the team’s No. 2 prospect, Ryan Mountcastle.

MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

With the exception of Manny Machado, the Orioles’ infield has provided inadequate offense so far this season. Both injuries and poor play have been factors.

The Orioles recently showed their willingness to make a big change when they demoted catcher Caleb Joseph to the minor leagues. So now it’s time to make another drastic move to help the infield: call up top prospect Ryan Mountcastle to play third base.

Position by position, the Orioles infield has underwhelming numbers so far this season.

In 48 games this season, second basemen are hitting .188/.248/.296 as a group. First basemen are hitting .175/.260/.301. O’s catchers have a .201/.247/.348 batting line.

Which brings us to third base, where Orioles players are carrying a .224/.291/.382 triple slash line at the plate. With no entrenched veteran at the position, unlike other infield spots, there is a degree of flexibility here.

Tim Beckham’s injury changed the complexion of the third base situation in late April, even though he only hit .179/.247/.667 through 23 games. After having surgery on April 26, Beckham currently resides on the 60-day disabled list.

A rotating cast of players has been used to fill in at the position since.

In 59 at-bats (16 games) this year as the third baseman, Danny Valencia has hit .322/.359/.492 with three home runs and eight RBI. Despite strong offensive numbers, his glove work makes him better suited for the DH spot.

Pedro Alvarez has been used sparingly at third base since the Beckham injury. He has hit .167/.211/.667 in 18 at-bats (five games) at the hot corner. Like Valencia, Alvarez should be getting most of his at-bats as a DH or substitution.

Jace Peterson has also seen time recently at third, where he has a .100/.250/.150 batting line in 20 at-bats (seven games), as of April 22. But Peterson is more suited for a utility role, where he can fill in at multiple positions to give regulars a break.

No one player has been able to lock down the third base position in almost a month. Why not try something new? Try out a young minor leaguer, who the team has a lot of time and developmental resources invested in. It may seem early, but give Ryan Mountcastle a chance.

One knock against Mountcastle has been a lack of walks. This past spring, Buck Showalter relayed an awkward exchange he had with Mountcastle regarding low walk totals, which took place after the youngster had been reassigned to minor league camp.

By the way, he had a strong spring for the Orioles this year, hitting .292/.320/.667 with two home runs, five RBI, one walk, and nine strikeouts in 24 at-bats. But it was still a sticking point for Showalter that Mountcastle work on his plate discipline.

In 2018, Mountcastle was 18 years old when he had nine walks in 196 at-bats between Rookie and Short-Season leagues. The next year, at age 19, he had 25 walks in 455 at-bats in low Single-A ball. In his age 20 season, including 512 at-bats split between high Single-A and Double-A, he had 17 walks.

Let’s not overlook his low strikeout numbers by comparison though. Mountcastle has never had a triple digit strikeout season in his entire minor league career. He has topped out at 96 strikeouts in 2017 and 95 strikeouts in 2016.

Mountcastle has shown a steady progression through the minors in a relatively short amount of time, showcasing his hitting talents at each stop along the way. In his first taste of professional baseball in 2015, he hit .296/.325/.393 with four home runs and 19 RBI. The following year, he hit .281/.319/.426 with 10 home runs and 51 RBI. Last year, he hit .287/.312/.489 with 18 home runs and 62 RBI.

Since returning from an early season injury, Mountcastle is off to a hot start at Double-A this year. In 49 at-bats, he’s hitting .327/.364/.429 with one home run, 11 RBI, four walks and eight strikeouts.

And now, a few comparisons between Mountcastle and former third baseman Manny Machado:

  • Both were former first round picks drafted out of Florida high schools — Machado, third overall in 2010 and Mountcastle, 36 overall (compensatory) in 2015.
  • In four minor league seasons, Machado hit .269/.349/.442 with 23 home runs and 116 RBI. In three plus minor league seasons, Mountcastle has hit .289/.320/.449 with 33 home runs and 142 RBI.
  • Machado never played above Double-A, getting called up at age 19 while playing for the Bowie Baysox. Mountcastle, 21 years old, currently plays for the Baysox.
  • Machado played two games at third base for Bowie before starting at third for the Orioles. Mountcastle has 63 starts there already, going back to last year.

Ok, no one is expecting Mountcastle’s defense at third to approach the platinum glove level of Manny’s, but who knows, maybe he can stick there.

Since Baltimore’s third basemen have underperformed as a group for almost two months now, the team needs to go in a new direction. And if the Orioles are really as bad as their record, then it’s time to look towards the future anyway. The fans still need a reason to get excited about this team, and a big prospect promotion could help that cause. For all these reasons and more, the Orioles should call up Ryan Mountcastle.