Almost at the exact moment that Hunter Harvey walked through the visiting clubhouse doors at Fenway Park, mental wheels began turning about other pitching prospects who could join him. How the collection of promising arms is increasing and creeping closer to the majors.
Grow the arms, build the hype.
The position players don’t create the same excitement, a deficiency that the Orioles worked hard to address in the draft. Remove catcher Adley Rutschman, the first overall pick, and the room grows quieter.
A healthy stretch from Austin Hays should get him regular at-bats as the center fielder. He had 14 hits in 39 at-bats (.359), including three home runs, in his last 11 games at Triple-A Norfolk before going 0-for-4 last night.
Yusniel Diaz has retained his status as the jewel in the Manny Machado trade with the Dodgers, but he’s on Double-A Bowie’s injured list with a strained quadriceps muscle suffered on July 31 - following a strained hamstring earlier in the season - and is slashing .258/.331/.465 with 18 doubles, three triples, 10 home runs and 51 RBIs in 69 games.
He won’t make it to Baltimore in 2019.
No one outside the warehouse knows whether Ryan Mountcastle has a chance to make his major league debut next month. He must be protected prior to the Rule 5 draft and is going on the 40-man roster, but his status doesn’t force a promotion to the majors.
His bat is doing the pushing.
Mountcastle, rated as the organization’s No. 4 prospect by MLBPipeline.com, is batting .311 with an .868 OPS with 29 doubles, a triple, 23 home runs and 75 RBIs in 114 games with Norfolk. He’s doing it at age 22 and while working at two new positions - first base and left field.
The 145 hits from Mountcastle lead the International League. He was on pace yesterday for 161, which would be the highest total by a Tides player since they became an Orioles affiliate in 2007.
Pedro Álvarez’s 26 home runs in 2017 are the most with Norfolk as an Orioles affiliate, with Mountcastle second and Michael Aubrey (22 in 2010) third. Óscar Salazar posted the highest average at .316 in 2008.
What’s impressing manager Gary Kendall?
“Consistency with the bat and hitting in the middle of the lineup,” he replied.
And that’s just the start.
“Not getting many days off and basically the reason for that was because when you’re trying to get a guy to play multiple positions ... He played a handful of games at first in the process, he played the large majority at the beginning at first base and lately it’s been a lot in left. He’s made so many adaptions,” Kendall said.
“You’re talking about an everyday guy hitting in the middle of the lineup at 22 years old who’s been probably the most consistent hitter in the league. Hitters sometimes go through peaks and valleys and he’s been able to maintain. There are certainly things he wants to address. Cut down on the strikeouts, maybe increase his on-base percentage, things of that nature. But all those things, I think we’re heading in the right direction.
“Just his maturity and how he’ handled it at a young age and to be able to handle all those positions and work hard defensively to improve there and be able to maintain the consistency with his bat is quite an accomplishment.”
Mountcastle is working at his third and fourth positions since the Orioles drafted him as a shortstop in 2015. He tried third base, moved across the diamond this spring and has been getting starts in left field during the season.
Whether he can gain the organization’s trust in the field is an ongoing storyline. They want to avoid making him a designated hitter at such a young age.
“At first base he’s making a lot of strides,” Kendall said. “There’s certainly things to be more consistent with day in and day out over the long haul of a season, certain plays, but he needs a lot of innings and we’re trying to get him those innings.
“In left field, he’s adapted to it well. Once he gets it going out there as far as his routes, what he gets to he handles, but it’s just making the right move on the ball. That line drive that maybe is hit over his head. The ball he has to commit to and coming in on a sinking line drive. The last couple of games he’s made strides in that department.
“So we’re going to keep at it and he’s willing to put the time and the effort in. We had him out there quite a bit for early work with some other outfielders and he seems to be adjusting.”
A lack of arm strength at shortstop was the primary knock on Mountcastle and precipitated the changes in positions.
“His arm, for me, plays a little better in the outfield than it did in the infield,” Kendall said. “I think he gathers himself well and gets in a position with his arm and his feet to have a little bit more arm strength, and his accuracy to bases has been good.”
The Orioles will figure out how to get him in the lineup when he’s ready. The previous and current front offices see the same qualities at the plate. He still doesn’t walk much - only 20 in 489 plate appearances after totaling 26 last summer with Double-A Bowie and receiving a stern lecture from Orioles manager Buck Showalter - but he can flat-out hit and the power is ridiculous.
Mountcastle hit a ball last Tuesday at Pawtucket that bounced in a parking lot.
“He hit a bomb,” Kendall said. “It was out of the stadium. It was hard to see because it went up so high and it got behind the lights and it was hard to see where it landed. He got all of it.”