SARASOTA, Fla. - With all the change of positions he has undergone and all the talk about his defense and whether it will be good enough for the majors, here’s another question about Orioles prospect Ryan Mountcastle.
Has he found a home in left field?
“I hope so,” he said this morning in the Orioles’ clubhouse. “I like the outfield. I feel like I’ve been learning a lot and making a lot of progress. But wherever they want to put me, I’m willing to do it. Just need to keep learning how to communicate with the other outfielders. Just (working on) getting good jumps on balls and taking good routes. There are things to improve on, but I feel like I’m making the right strides so far.”
Mountcastle played three positions last year at Triple-A Norfolk, making 84 starts at first base, nine at third base and 26 in left field. He moved into the outfield late in the year.
He has looked comfortable out there during spring training. Yes, a ball was lost among the sun and wind the other day, but he’s also had a few tougher-than-routine chances that he’s handled, and he charged in to made a diving catch with the bases loaded Monday versus the Red Sox in Fort Myers.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said of this newest defensive challenge. “Just trying to get some new plays out there. I don’t have much experience so far, but I’m starting to feel pretty comfortable with all the extra work we’ve been doing before and after practice. So yeah, starting to feel pretty good.
“Some of the guys were saying spring training outfield is probably the hardest you will have. Because of the sun and it’s very windy down here. Those two factors alone make it pretty tough.”
If Mountcastle can play an adequate left field, maybe some fans and media will eventually begin to focus more on his bat. There is plenty to like there. His offense last year at Norfolk produced enough for him to be named both International League MVP and the Orioles’ Brooks Robinson Award winner as their Minor League Player of the Year.
The 36th overall pick by the Orioles in the 2015 draft out of a Florida high school, Mountcastle last year hit .312/.344/.527 with an .871 OPS in his first season at Triple-A. 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.
He said he’s starting to feel good about his swing in the Florida sun. Last season he hit .282 (11-for-39) with a homer and five RBIs in spring games. He is 2-for-9 so far this spring with a couple of singles.
“Feels pretty good. Just got to get my timing down a little bit,” he said of his offense in the early spring games.
In winter prospect top 100 rankings, Mountcastle was rated No. 57 by Baseball Prospectus, No. 94 by MLBPipeline.com and No. 108 (in the top 120) by FanGraphs.com. He just missed the Baseball America top 100 but is the organization’s No. 5 Orioles prospect.
After his offensive success everywhere he’s gone on the farm, the majors are calling. His day is coming. He feels ready but knows many major league challenges are ahead for him.
“Big leagues is a whole different animal, I know that,” he said. “Going to experience failure no matter how confident I am. So just trying to be confident but not too confident. You know you’re going to fail sometimes, so just get back up and keep it rolling.”