On Doorstep of Majors, Ryan Mountcastle Looks to Develop Defensively
Ryan Mountcastle’s development will take a new turn at Triple-A Norfolk this season, as he is preparing to see time at first base. For a prospect often lauded for his bat but questioned over his defensive abilities, Mountcastle’s performance in the field could be a factor in whether he reaches Baltimore this year.
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The Orioles originally drafted Mountcastle as a shortstop in 2015, before moving him to third base in 2017 and leaving him at the position last season. All the while, his bat has remained consistent, even as questions persisted about where he would play long term.
In their latest move to give Mountcastle a look at another position, the Orioles tried him at first base during major league spring training. He is expected to receive a good chunk of playing time at first base in Norfolk, so the work that the team did with him over the spring is ultimately setting up how his 2019 season could play out.
With the decision to give Mountcastle time at first, the Orioles are taking a step to increase his versatility—he presumably could continue to log appearances at third base as well—while giving themselves more options later in the year. There is no question that if Mountcastle’s offensive success continues in Norfolk he can give the Orioles a boost at the major league level later this year, but there is something to be said for the flexibility that could come with determining his position given the state of the Orioles current 25-man roster.
The mix of options at third base that includes Rio Ruiz might not hold up over the course of a whole season, so Mountcastle might at least provide more offensive value. First base also comes with its own questions, given Chris Davis’s struggles in recent seasons and that they could carry over into 2019. (It’s a very small sample size, but the early returns for Davis in 2019 are not the least bit promising). At that point, Mountcastle could be an upgrade at first base offensively by providing a better bat than Davis.
Those are the two most likely paths for Mountcastle at this stage, so if he is to reach Baltimore this year, expect it to be under one of those circumstances. If I had to predict now where Mountcastle will play if he reaches Baltimore this season—which is still very much an if, not necessarily a when—I would say that he will see the bulk of his playing time at first base. If Davis struggles over the coming months, it will be an easy call come this summer to give Mountcastle at-bats at first, knowing that he stands a chance of at least providing better offensive value. He still needs to develop at first base, but if he can hone his skills there over the coming months, his case for playing time would be much stronger. He could very easily be an upgrade at third offensively, but I would still be inclined to believe the Orioles can do better defensively with another option.
Keep in mind that just because the Orioles decide to put Mountcastle at one position initially does not mean he will stay there his whole major league career, or for the relative short run. The organization could just as easily decide that it wants to try him at another position after this season. His arm has been cited as a concern defensively, which limits his versatility, but perhaps a stint in left field is something the Orioles could explore if neither of the two corner infield positions are his best fit.
All of this is, of course, predicated on Mountcastle hitting well enough at Norfolk—where Harbor Park has a reputation as a pitcher-friendly park. Time will tell how Mountcastle develops at Triple-A, but his defensive ability will certainly be an area to watch as the season progresses.
A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, and Loyola University; Spedden has previously spent time in the Washington Nationals organization as a videographer for the Hagerstown Suns. As a blogger, Spedden is an Editor / Writer for the Suns fan club. Additionally, he contributes to The Nats Blog as a prospect writer, and Ballpark Digest. For BSL, Spedden covers the Orioles Minor Leagues.