Making the 40-man roster was the easy part for Ryan Mountcastle, the Orioles’ fourth-ranked prospect per MLB.com and the No. 2 position player behind catcher Adley Rutschman, who leads the pack after being the first-overall pick in this year’s First-Year Player Draft.
Mountcastle faces a much stiffer challenge trying to make the club out of spring training. This is where he loses slam-dunk status.
The Orioles protected Mountcastle before the Rule 5 draft. They might continue to protect him by waiting until later in the summer to promote him to the majors.
Give him more time to work on his strikeout/walk ratio and his defense, whether it’s first base or left field. Take the service clock into consideration.
Mountcastle, the International League’s Most Valuable Player this summer at age 22, said he’s reporting to the Sarasota, Fla. complex in February with every intention of earning a job on the 26-man roster.
“I’m going to camp and try to make the team out of camp,” Mountcastle said last week on the “Orioles Hot Stove Show” on 105.7 The Fan. “I want to help that team win ballgames and whatever happens happens. I’m going to go out there and play my best and ultimately it’s up to them.”
Finding a position is tricky with the corner outfield spots occupied by Anthony Santander and Trey Mancini and with Chris Davis playing first base. Mancini could shift to first base at times. The Orioles could decide that having Mountcastle’s bat in the lineup is worth making him a young designated hitter, at least on a temporary basis.
It’s harder than putting him on the 40-man.
“When I found out, I was pretty ecstatic,” he said. “I called my family and friends and stuff and it was definitely a special day in my life, for sure.”
A day that he should have seen coming.
“To be honest, I didn’t really know the exact date,” Mountcastle said. “I knew it was sometime in the winter. I was thinking it was more like December. I found out a couple days before. My agent let me know that it was Nov. 20, and I was hoping I’d get back home that day and I did.”
The Orioles seem to have moved past the idea of playing Mountcastle on the left side of the infield. It’s probably down to first base and left field.
He keeps moving around and he keeps hitting.
“It’s pretty tough, but you get all your work in during BP and extra work before the game,” he said. “Once you get out on the field, wherever you’re playing, you just go out there and try to make plays and try to win the game.
“I didn’t really take my different defensive positioning up to the plate with me. I wasn’t thinking too much about that.”
The feedback on Mountcastle’s work in left field has been more positive. I’ve heard that his arm plays better out there.
“Playing the outfield is definitely different,” he said. “I played a little bit in high school, not much. Just going out there and getting extra reps every day, whoever it would be - Butch (Davis, the hitting coach at Triple-A Norfolk) or Gary (Kendall, Norfolk manager) - just working on my game out there definitely helped.”