Ryan Mountcastle places name alongside O’s royalty

When he hit the ball in the third inning Sunday, it started soaring toward right-center field. Moments later, it was over the wall, and with one big swing, young Ryan Mountcastle passed one Orioles Hall of Famer and matched another.

With homer No. 28, he moved past Eddie Murray (27 homers in 1977) and joined Cal Ripken Jr. (1982) for most homers as a rookie in club history. Hanging out on a list with Orioles royalty - not bad for the young hitter selected No. 36 overall in 2015 out of Hagerty High School in Florida.

On their watch, Mountcastle made steady progress from the lower levels on the farm to the highest. Along the way, his defense was always questioned, but not his hitting ability. That ability carried him to the 2018 All-Star Futures Game. In 2019, he was the Orioles Minor League Player of the Year and the International League MVP - the first Triple-A Norfolk Tide to do that since 1997.

This kid didn’t walk much, but he sure could do damage to a baseball.

Now he’s not just setting minor league records, but putting his name alongside Hall of Famers.

It’s been fun to watch the ride and Mountcastle’s progress along the way. When Birdland dreams of a better future, talent like Mountcastle is among those leading the way. Fans can dream on a day when he might be in the lineup with, let’s say, Adley Rutschman, Kyle Stowers, Jordan Westburg and Gunnar Henderson, to name a few of those hoping to join him one day soon.

Mountcastle-HR-Swing-Orange-Sidebar.jpgPerhaps Mountcastle’s biggest success from this year will be overcoming a slow start. He didn’t panic, but just kept working. At the end of April, he was batting .198/.229/.286/.515 and no one was talking about rookie homer records.

But since May, 1 he has hit .280/.336/.550/.886. That OPS, if maintained over the full year, would rank eighth-best in the American League right now.

“Since May, just had an outstanding season. Take away April, it’s a great year,” manager Brandon Hyde said Sunday. “What a great accomplishment, your rookie year to be on a list with some of the greatest players of all time. You know it’s really, really cool and well deserved. Put a lot of work in. Really happy with how he dealt with adversity after that first month. Made some great adjustments and is just putting together an outstanding Rookie of the Year campaign.”

I’ve said it before of Mountcastle. This young man will likely never have an impressive walk rate. Among the 11 O’s hitters with 200 or more plate appearances this year, he ranks eighth in walk/strikeout ratio at 0.26. In strikeout percentage and chase rate, he still ranks among the poorest in baseball.

He’s not the perfect player and he didn’t wind up on the left side of the infield, where he started out. Or, for now, in the outfield. But he sure can hit and that bat will play in the middle of the Orioles order.

He has now played in 160 career major league games with 647 plate appearances. And he’s batting .264/.316/.498/.813 with an OPS+ of 115, so 15 percent better than the league. He won’t turn 25 until next spring training.

One area of improvement from 2020 has been the ability to drive breaking balls. While he batted .327 against breaking pitches in 2020, his slugging percentage was .442, and now it is .475 on breaking pitches. His slugging on fastballs jumped from .492 last year to .591 this year.

Mountcastle ranks in the 78th percentile, so top 22 percent of the game, in barrel percentage. You hit the ball hard often, good things could happen.

To be barreled, a batted ball requires an exit velocity of at least 98 mph. At that speed, balls struck with a launch angle between 26-30 degrees always garner barreled classification. For every mph over 98, the range of launch angles expands. Balls hit like this have led to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage since Statcast was implemented in the majors in 2015.

Yep, exit velocity and launch angle matter.

Mountcastle’s 160-game stats are very impressive. When he struggled early this year, it was not so much about talent, but that he was expanding the zone way too much. But he got that figured out and the results are clear.

During a tough year for O’s fans, they can look at this kid and dream of a day the organization produces another Mountcastle, then another and another.

In the meantime, we can watch him equal and exceed Hall of Famers on a very impressive list.

Henderson moves up: The Orioles have promoted Henderson, one of their top prospects, from high Single-A Aberdeen to Double-A Bowie. Henderson is the club’s No. 4 prospect and is rated No. 76 on the MLBPipeline.com top 100 and No. 81 by Baseball America.

This move is no doubt about both giving him a brief taste of this level at the end of the year and also giving Bowie another bat for its lineup. Henderson posted an OPS of .944 in 35 games early this year at low Single-A Delmarva and he leaves Aberdeen with an OPS of .775 after a very slow start with the IronBirds.

For the season over two levels, he is batting .260/.352/.484/.836 with 27 doubles, four triples, 17 homers and 74 RBIs. Among O’s full-season players on the farm, he ranks second in doubles, fourth in RBIs and fifth in homers and OPS.

In a handful of games this month, Henderson has hit .296/.424/.778 for Aberdeen with six of his eight hits going for extra bases.

As just 20, the kid with the 60-grade power and arm reaches Double-A ball.

Heading into this last week of the regular season, Bowie is chasing one of two playoff berths in the Double-A Northeast. Here is how they stand:

.619 - Akron (70-43)
.611 - Somerset (69-44)
.602 - Bowie (68-45)

The top two teams meet next week in a best-of-five championship series. Here is where Bowie could get some help. Somerset plays at Akron this week, and Bowie will gain on one of these teams with each win this week. Have a strong week and they’ll pass somebody to hopefully gain a playoff spot next week.

Bowie hosts Altoona (64-54) this week for a seven-game series beginning with today’s doubleheader at 5:35 p.m. at Prince George’s Stadium, where right-hander Grayson Rodriguez is expected to start tomorrow.

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