With Orioles fans aching for a spark in September, many hoped a glimpse at a top prospect like Ryan Mountcastle would provide a much needed distraction from the club’s record. Mountcastle never showed, but spectators in Baltimore had the pleasure of watching Austin Hays flourish during the final month of the season.
After an impressive showing, many have already penciled Hays into the Orioles Opening Day lineup. But what about Mountcastle? Where does he fit into Baltimore’s 2020 plans?
The Orioles selected Mountcastle with the 36th overall pick in the 2015 draft. The Florida native impressed early on, and found himself 4.2 years below the average age at Double-A Bowie in 2017. Naturally, he struggled a bit down the stretch with the Baysox.
Mountcastle concluded 2017 in the Arizona Fall league, and the extra at bats proved crucial to his development. The righty slashed .297/.341/.464 over 102 games at Bowie in 2018. While the bat bounced back, Mountcastle’s defense was called into question.
Mountcastle entered the Orioles system as a shortstop, but it became clear early on that he may not stick there. The first-rounder split 2017 between shortstop and third base, but only played third after being promoted to Double-A. Mountcastle stayed at third during his impressive 2018 season.
The Orioles rebuild brought increased attention to the farm this past season, and Mountcastle answered the call. He played all year at Triple-A Norfolk, and slashed .312/.344/.527 over 127 games. The bat is there. The bat is ready.
Unfortunately, the Orioles remained unsatisfied with Mountcastle’s defensive position. The 22-year-old got an extended look at first base over 84 games, but the organization decided to switch things up again. Mountcastle finished off 2019 with 26 games in left field.
The early reports of the first-rounder’s outfield defense were positive, but a guy doesn’t master left field in just one month. If the Orioles want Mountcastle to stick in the outfield, and it appears that way right now, then he needs to play every day at Norfolk to start the season.
Mountcastle will start 2019 in the minors for two reasons. He needs to prove he’s at least serviceable in the field, and the club can delay his service time for another year. That’s really all there is to it right now. Mountcastle appears ready to face Major League pitching. He may not match his lofty 2019 numbers, but anything close will do.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Orioles are actually pretty set on outfield/first base types. Chris Davis will be in Sarasota next spring, and he’ll likely be on the 26-man roster to start the season. With Davis and Trey Mancini splitting first base, Mountcastle’s new position may be his pathway to the Majors. Of course, Mancini will spend some time in the outfield, so will Hays, Anthony Santander, and DJ Stewart. There’s no rush to get Mountcastle there in April.
The Orioles will take a long look at Mountcastle during spring training, but he could hit .500 and still not make the club. Summer of 2020 appears to be as good a bet as any, but an injury or two could speed up the process. There’s no doubt that Mountcastle’s strong offensive year allowed his stock to rise in 2019. Still, his position swaps make the picture a little less clear.
With the addition of Adley Rutschman to the O’s farm system and the emergence of guys like Santander and John Means, Mountcastle doesn’t need to be the face of a rebuild in Baltimore. Instead, the club’s No. 4 prospect can focus on his defense and improving everyday.
As of now, it still appears that his bat will be worth the wait. If Mountcastle proves he can handle the glove, there’s no reason he can’t be hitting and robbing home runs at Camden Yards by the end of 2020.