One aspect of the Orioles’ rebuild that could and should excite fans is seeing young prospects come up from the minor leagues.
One of the O’s best is expected to make his debut next season. That is 22-year-old Ryan Mountcastle. His defensive position may not be set yet, but his bat looks ready.
Mountcastle was an easy 40-man roster addition last month after a season when he was named both International League Most Valuable Player and the O’s 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. He 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 and sixth in slugging.
Today we ponder a few Mountcastle questions.
When will he arrive?: It is a topic that front offices don’t and/or can’t talk about, but it comes into play with many young prospects: service-time considerations.
It comes down to this: If the Orioles can hold Mountcastle out of the majors until some point in May of this year or later - which would mean they get to keep him for another full season - they should do it. It would almost be front office malpractice not to do so in a rebuilding situation. If he’s the hitter they think he is, would you rather have him guaranteed to be with the club for seven seasons or for six?
A contending team might make a different decision. The 2012 Orioles called up Manny Machado out of Double-A on Aug. 9. He wasn’t completely tearing up the Eastern League with 11 homers and an OPS of .789. But they needed a third baseman and they called him then. He never went back to the minors and never played a game at Triple-A.
Mountcastle’s situation - really the organization’s situation - is very, very different this time around.
What position will he play?: Probably, first, third or left field. See, it’s narrowed down to three. Drafted as a shortstop, Mountcastle played 84 games last season for Triple-A Norfolk at first base, nine games at third and 26 in left field. We know he’s not setting the world on fire with the glove, but the kid keeps playing anywhere they ask him to and works very hard to get better. Of course he could DH, but that is not ideal for a young prospect.
Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said this at the Winter Meetings: “Which of those (positions) ultimately ends up being his full-time home is sort of TBD. It’s going to depend on the structure of our roster and also depend on his development. It’s something he’s still working on so that we can find a home for his bat.”
Will he start when he comes up?: This is probably an easy call, as he certainly should. There is no reason to bring him up to accrue service time while he sits. Not much to gain there. His bat is pretty much ready, so soon it will be time to see how he handles big league pitching and what adjustments he will have to make. He needs to play when they call him up.
Will he be ready to hit when he comes up?: It sure seems like he will. He passed a lot of tests last season at Triple-A. He’s an aggressive hitter with a low walk rate, which could work as long as he doesn’t expand the zone often or chase pitches. If he does, big league pitchers will take advantage of it.
Gary Kendall knows Mountcastle well. Kendall managed him in 2018 at Double-A Bowie and in Triple-A last summer. He believes the kid will live up to the hype about his bat and become an impactful big league hitter.
“I don’t think that is overstating it,” Kendall told me recently. “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 with good repetitions at the big leagues.
“You know, Ryan did more damage on offense at all levels than Manny (Machado). 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.”