Orioles prospect Ryan Mountcastle’s path toward the majors took another significant step forward yesterday. He joined pitchers Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer and outfielder Ryan McKenna as additions to the Orioles’ 40-man roster Wednesday.
The Orioles now have 39 players on that roster.
Mountcastle was an easy addition after a season when he was named both International League Most Valuable Player and the Orioles’ Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year.
The 36th overall pick in the 2015 draft out of a Florida high school hit .312/.344/.527 with an .871 OPS in his first season at Triple-A Norfolk. He added 35 doubles, one triple, 25 homers, 81 runs and 83 RBIs. Mountcastle led the IL in hits (162) and total bases (274) and ranked second in extra-base hits (61), third in doubles, fifth in average, runs and RBIs, sixth in slugging and 11th in OPS.
It was quite the year, and his manager with the Tides, Gary Kendall, had a good seat to watch it.
“There was not only physical maturity but mental maturity,” Kendall said of Mountcastle. “I think he’s grown when it comes to the mental side of the game as well as the physicality he brings offensively. He handled success. He handled failure, although there wasn’t too much. He was just the total package this year.
“He got off to a good start and maintained that through the year. Which is quite an accomplishment, to not have many doldrums. He did this while learning new positions - playing some first, some third and some left field. He just handled everything so well mentally and just blossomed physically on the field.
“He’s very confident in what he does and his approach. But he’s a very humble young man that was raised really, really well. I just saw tremendous growth in him this year. How he handled everything, hit in the middle of the lineup, what kind of teammate he was. Just a real special kid that had a real special year.”
Mountcastle is a national top 100 prospect, ranked No. 64 by MLBPipeline.com and No. 88 by Baseball America. He should get his first major league shot during the 2020 season.
“Oh, I think Ryan is going to be ready when he gets that opportunity,” said Kendall. “He seems to rise to the competition. I know Manny (Machado) was a player like that several years back. He kind of improved when he got around that level of baseball. When you have tools and you are thrust into that, you rise to the occasion. And I think this guy, offensively, can really be a force.
“That (his walk rate of 4.3 percent) can get better. When Mike Elias came down it was addressed, and there were times he picked up some walks in some crucial situations. It’s going to come with time. For me, it was about pitch selection early in counts. Sometimes he would swing early in the count that if he had more patience I think he would not have been in some situations that led to strikeouts. But getting more at-bats and more knowledge about the game each day, I think he will continue to make strides here.”
Mountcastle was moved from third to first base during spring training last season. He made 83 starts at first base and nine at third for the Tides. Late in the year he started 26 times in left field. Is left his best future position?
“He looked comfortable in left field,” Kendall said. “But he also played a much improved first base from the time he went over there in spring training. You are learning a new position at almost the highest level of baseball. He adapted well at first and I think he’ll continue to make strides if he plays there.
“In the outfield he looked more comfortable each day, and there was a learning environment each day. A mistake he might make that he doesn’t the next day. You can only take so many balls off a fungo bat. You have to be in a live situation and see the way the ball spins off the bat. I saw a lot of improvement and I was very encouraged at the end of the year, based on just the limited amount of games and how well he did.”
Kendall also managed Mountcastle at Double-A and managed Machado at Bowie in 2012. He does not shy away from these two statements: That Mountcastle can be an impact bat in the majors and it is not out of line to say he has Machado-like potential at bat.
“I don’t think it’s overstating it,” Kendall said. “He’s as good a bat as our fans and staff have seen come through here in a long time. You look at the numbers in Bowie and these different levels. Who’s done it? Here is a guy that has. There is no reason he can’t (be an impact bat) with good repetitions at the big leagues.
“You know, Ryan did more damage on offense at all levels than Manny. He has very impressive numbers. And I know it’s the minor leagues, so I don’t get fooled by that. But why not? What is left to be proven? I think he could be very special once he gets up there.”
Kendall also managed during the 2019 season the two pitchers added to the 40-man roster yesterday. Akin went 6-7 with a 4.73 ERA in 25 games for Norfolk. Over 112 1/3 innings he allowed 109 hits with 61 walks and an International League-leading 131 strikeouts.
Kendall on Akin: “I thought he had a good year. Every time he went out, I was very confident this guy would give us a real good start. He was a real good worker between outings and really gets after it. I like that about him. He’s a very focused kid, very driven. I just like to watch him compete and have a lot of confidence in him. He just goes after hitters and exudes a lot of confidence with good presence on the mound. He will even further develop as he commands his pitches more. I know his walks were up, but this is a guy that really knows how to pitch.”
Kremer went 9-6 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.30 WHIP between three teams in 2019. He threw 9 1/3 scoreless innings for Single-A Frederick, pitched to a 2.98 ERA in 15 starts for Bowie and an 8.84 ERA in four late-season starts for Norfolk. He went 1-1 with a 2.37 ERA in the Arizona Fall League.
Kendall on Kremer: “This guy knows what he’s doing. He’s very confident with a very good delivery with great arm action. He’s a strike-thrower that is around the plate all the time. I think he can pitch deep into games. I just think the thing he struggled the most with at Triple-A was the slider and changeup. When that improves, he can be more of a four-pitch guy. But he has the capability to have four good pitches because of the delivery he has, and the ease of the delivery. He’s in tremendous shape and is a very good worker. The curveball has great shape. As he develops those other two pitches with the fastball and curve, he’ll have a real good mix to keep hitters off stride.”
This is noteworthy: When the Orioles made infielder Richie Martin the first pick in last year’s Rule 5 draft, MLBPipeline.com had him rated as the No. 12 prospect on the Oakland A’s top 30 list. The O’s have the No. 2 pick in the Rule 5 draft next month, and per Major League Baseball, they will have 63 players to choose from who are currently on the top 30 prospects lists of their respective organizations. Click here for more from MLBPipeline.com.