Challenged on a recent radio interview to name a few of my spring training curiosities relating to the younger players, I blurted out Ryan Mountcastle’s name as if moved by a reflex.
My leg didn’t fully extend, but it was a similar sensation.
Mountcastle isn’t expected to head north with the team, though a final decision hasn’t been made. That isn’t why the media will watch him as if he were a Netflix documentary.
It’s about his defense again, which must test his patience.
How much has Mountcastle improved and, in a new twist, how does he look in right field?
The Orioles have seen Mountcastle at shortstop, third base and first base and in left field. They intend to audition him in right, the assumption being that new outfield instructor Anthony Sanders - the replacement for first base coach Arnie Beyeler - will hit him baskets of fly balls on the back fields.
Whether in plain view of the media and other onlookers or while we’re distracted.
Former executive Brady Anderson isn’t around anymore to join in the instruction, as he did with Trey Mancini.
(Beyeler, by the way, was named manager at Double-A Erie in the Tigers organization. Former Double-A Bowie hitting coach Keith Bodie was a finalist for the job.)
Will the Orioles move Mountcastle between the infield and outfield corners at the Ed Smith Stadium complex? Is there one position that’s going to keep him the busiest?
The answers will come over the next couple of months.
The Orioles aren’t trying to set a record for most positions by a player under the age of 23. They just want to find a spot for Mountcastle in order to keep his bat in the lineup and, ideally, avoid making him a full-time designated hitter so early in his career.
Renato Núñez hit 31 home runs last season, including 23 as the DH, and the Orioles aren’t in a hurry to move his bat out of the lineup. If he can’t be trusted to play the infield corners, at least in a platoon-type situation, his role is going to stay the same and the club must figure out what to do with Mountcastle.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias was asked last week in Salisbury when fans can expect Mountcastle to be called up to the majors.
“He’s going to be in major league spring training, probably for the whole time, and he’s going to have a chance to break with the team,” Elias replied.
“He’s a young player, one of the youngest hitters in Triple-A and one of the best hitters in Triple-A, so that’s a good combination. The things we’re still working on with him is where he’s going to profile best defensively, how we’re going to fit that on our roster, and also we love the fact that he’s got a knack for hitting. Hits for high averages and power. But he can work on being a little more selective with his pitches.
“All of that is pretty normal with a young hitter, but there are still some questions to answer in terms of when is he going to be totally ready, a finished product, and where is he going to play on the field. If he’s only able to play first base or DH, it’s much tougher to pair him in the lineup with a Trey Mancini or a Renato Núñez or other guys who are going to be on our team next year. We want him to provide a little more flexibility than that.”
Doesn’t sound like projects that can be completed by the end of spring training. But Mountcastle will make his major league debut later this year and the attention is only going to intensify.