This time last year, there was not a whole lot to look forward to when it came to the 2020 Orioles season. By the time the summer camp for the shortened season rolled around, this was even more true. That’s not to say there were no bright spots on the horizon, as we could all at least tell ourselves that, most likely, we would see a few prospects debut before the season was over.
Ryan Mountcastle was one of the guys who seemed certain to get a big league chance even in the shortened season. He had a good season at Triple-A in 2019 and the next challenge for him was the MLB level. The only question was when. There were more than a few people out there who took it as a personal slight that the Orioles did not decide to put Mountcastle on the Opening Day roster, a grievance refreshed each day Mountcastle was not called up and doubly so on each day that Chris Davis was in the Orioles starting lineup.
We’ll never know when we would have seen Mountcastle debut in a typical regular season. In the 2020 schedule, he arrived on the 26th of the team’s 60 games and he played in every game the rest of the way, batting .333/.386/.492 with five home runs and maybe, if the small sample size of public defensive metrics means anything to you, acceptable left field defense.
As Mountcastle was climbing the Orioles minor league ladder, one knock on him was that he did not walk enough. Naturally, he walked twice in his first big league game and four times over his first four games, ending up his part of the 2020 season with a 7.9% walk rate. After he’d hit 25 home runs and 35 doubles in 127 games for Norfolk in 2019, I thought he’d show a bit more power in the big league level, but only 10 of his 42 hits went for extra bases.
The big question for the rebuilding Orioles, and for fans enduring the rebuild, is whether all of that from Mountcastle adds up to a player who can be a part of the next good Orioles team. It was good enough that no one should be discouraged, but his part of the season was short enough that none of the question marks around him have been banished, either.
Here’s what three of the big public projections see for Mountcastle in the coming season:
- ZiPS: .288/.324/.473
- Steamer: .276/.321/.477 (both from Fangraphs)
- Marcel: .280/.351/.451 (from Baseball Reference)
Looking only at OPS, these are very similar projections, only .005 apart from one another. Marcel is more optimistic about the walk rate and less optimistic about the power. I would be glad to see Steamer’s projected 26 home runs from Mountcastle.
One thing to keep in mind in trying to have your own expectations for Mountcastle in 2021 is that he was the beneficiary of batted ball luck, with a BABIP coming in at .398. Mountcastle had BABIPs of .331 or better in every minor league stop that lasted at least 80 games. He’s a guy who can probably be above-average in that area consistently.
Even so, .398 is high. In the last full season in 2019, only two qualified batters had a BABIP above .398, and only nine players were at .350 or greater. All of which is to say that Mountcastle would have a tough time hitting above .300 if this BABIP number regresses closer to his minor league performance, and that’s what shows up in those projections.
The case for the over
Mountcastle was a prospect who was projected to grow into power and he has seemed to do so on his way up the minor league ladder. His 25 home runs for Norfolk in a five-month minor league season would have meant a pace for 31 home runs or so over a big league-length season.
Hitting 30+ homers doesn’t quite mean what it used to - 53 batters did this in the 2019 season - but Mountcastle still has the potential to stand out if he can tap into that power in his age 24 season while keeping a solid batting average and decent on-base percentage. That is a less common combination in today’s game.
The case for the under
Mountcastle did not homer in his final 13 games of the 2020 season, or have any extra-base hit at all in the last nine games he played in. That he will produce the power he did when he first encountered the juiced baseballs in Triple-A in 2019 is not guaranteed. What’s more, Mountcastle only had an average exit velocity of 87.4 miles per hour in his 2020 at-bats.
Looking back to the last full season in 2019, there were only 19 qualified batters at that EV or below. A few of these were still successful players, including four of the players with 30+ homers. If Kris Bryant or Jose Altuve hit 31 home runs for the Orioles, as they did for their real teams in 2019, we would not care that their EV averaged 87.whatever. But the safe bet is not that Ryan Mountcastle will be a big leaguer who hits like Kris Bryant or Jose Altuve.
Make your pick
See the first post of this series for an explanation of why the poll is built around ZiPS. Camden Chat readers have been optimistic about the players so far. I won’t be surprised if that continues.
The only polls I’ll revisit at season’s end are the ones where a hitter takes at least 200 plate appearances, a reliever throws at least 25 innings, or a starter throws at least 60 innings as Orioles. That’s about a third of a season. If someone gets hurt or gets traded before they can play that much, it won’t be very interesting to see if they beat their projected performance or not.
In the event of a push, where Mountcastle’s OPS is exactly .797, the tie goes to the over.
What are you expecting from Mountcastle in the coming season? Let us know what you’re thinking in the comments below.
Will Ryan Mountcastle go over or under his ZiPS projected OPS of .797 in 2021?
This poll is closed