After strong debut, what’s next for Ryan Mountcastle?

Ryan Mountcastle was one of the club’s better hitters during the shortened 2020 season. He arrived in the majors with an Aug. 21 call-up and sure did not disappoint with his play and production after that.

Mountcastle has been moving onward and upward at a steady pace since the Orioles selected him in the First-Year Player Draft.

2015: O’s select him No. 36 overall out of Hagerty (Fla.) High School.
2016: He spends his entire first full year at Single-A Delmarva, batting .281/.319/.426.
2017: He makes it to Double-A at 20.
2018: Representing Bowie and the Orioles, he plays in the All-Star Futures Game.
2019: He bats .312/.344/.527 at Triple-A Norfolk and is International League Player of the Year. He is also O’s Minor League Player of the Year.
2020: Makes long-anticipated arrival in the bigs and gets a third-place vote for American League Rookie of the Year.

That vote enabled Mountcastle to tie for eighth in the voting and he will still be rookie-eligible as the 2021 campaign begins.

Over 35 games and 140 plate appearances, Mountcastle batted .333/.386/.492 with five doubles, five homers, 23 RBIs and an OPS of .878 for the Orioles in 2020. His OPS+ of 140 was 40 percent better than league average. In 2019 at Triple-A, he posted a line of .312/.344/.527 with an .871 OPS.

With Norfolk in 2019, Mountcastle’s walk rate was 4.3 and it was 7.9 this year in the majors, just below league average of 8.3. His strikeout rate was 23.5 on the farm with Norfolk; with the Orioles, it was 21.4 and league average was 21.8.

During an interview this week on the MLB Network, O’s manager Brandon Hyde sized up Mountcastle’s big league debut year.

Thumbnail image for Mountcastle-Swings-White-Sidebar.jpg“Ryan came up in the last half of the year and just had a great year,” he said. “Kind of hit him down in the order to take some pressure off him and this guy was getting two hits a game and driving the baseball. Love his athleticism. He can really run and did a nice job in left field. He put up big numbers and he’s got power to all fields.

“He can run and he gets some infield-type singles and he puts pressure on the defense. I loved his plate discipline - that was something that I hadn’t seen in spring training. Something we had talked about him working on at the secondary site. He took that to heart and did a great job. Swung at strikes, got in hitter’s counts a lot.

“For a 23-year-old kid, playing in the American League East for the first time, against teams trying to get to the pennant, I thought it was a really, really impressive offensive month.”

Ranked currently as the O’s No. 5 prospect by both Baseball America and MLBPipeline.com, maintaining the rookie status keeps Mountcastle on those prospects lists - for now. But his time there is likely short.

He batted 10-for-22 when he put the first pitch in play, hitting .455 with an OPS of 1.136. He produced both at home (.848 OPS) and on the road (.902 OPS). He hit .343 (12-for-35) with runners in scoring position and batted .417 (5-for-12) with RISP and two outs. He was often solid or at the very minimum an average defender in left field.

MLBPipeline.com put a slightly below average 45 grade on Mountcastle as a runner. But we saw better than that in the majors. Statcast graded him in the 79th percentile, so the top 21 percent in the majors, in sprint speed. That was definitely not below average.

But what happens with the kid now? What will it take to maintain or even improve on his 2020 season numbers? Now major league pitchers have seen him firsthand and will no doubt try to figure out new ways to get him out. Although he did bat .347 against breaking balls in 2020, so he even showed an ability to hit those pitches.

“Well, I think the challenge of being a young player is that the league doesn’t know you extremely well when you first get there,” Hyde said during a Zoom interview this week with O’s reporters. “Then they make adjustments to you and it’s your job to make adjustments back if you want to continue to be an impact player in this league. It’s not an easy thing to do. That is why I was so impressed with (Anthony) Santander to be honest with you. Coming off the year he had in ‘19, made some adjustments offensively and improved even more. Ryan is going to have to do the same thing. There is a book on Ryan now. There are a lot of at-bats that he had the last 30 games.

“But he is so athletic and he’s got a really good feel to hit that I’m confident he is going to make those adjustments. Really exciting to watch him play those last 30 games. With him being young and athletic and learning different positions, not easy to do. So, what he did was extremely impressive.”

Mountcastle ranked first among AL rookies with a minimum 110 plate appearances in OBP, tied for first in three-hit games (five), second in OPS, batting average and slugging, third in multi-hit games (14), fifth in hits (42), tied for sixth in RBIs and eighth in home runs. His 30 hits and 19 RBIs in September led the Orioles.

In his first year in Baltimore, Mountcastle certainly was worth waiting for and lived up to the hype.

Now what can he do for an encore?

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