SARASOTA, Fla.—Since he came into the Orioles’ organization, the question of where Ryan Mountcastle would play defensively has been an active one.
Mountcastle’s first 2 ½ seasons were spent at shortstop. In 2016, he committed 21 errors in 105 games at Low-A Delmarva, and in the first half of the 2017 season at High-A Frederick, Mountcastle was charged with 13 errors in 82 games.
He was promoted to Double-A Bowie in the second half of 2017, and made six errors in 38 games. Last year, Mountcastle was charged with 16 in 82 games at third base.
With a new Orioles management team, Mountcastle might be moved to a new position. On Monday, Mountcastle was taking turns at first base. A day later, he was moved to third.
“I’m working out at third and first,” Mountcastle said. “I was told two days ago I was going to take some ground balls [at first base], try to get my feet wet.”
Mountcastle has no professional experience at first and wasn’t sure if he played there—in high school—or even Little League.
“I may have played a game or two there, but no, not really,” he said. “I feel good. I think it’s pretty easy to pick up, just coming from the other side of the field, the other corner, so I feel good over there.”
Manager Brandon Hyde isn’t sure which position is best.
“We’re going to keep moving him,” Hyde said. “He’s going to do a little bit of third, a little bit of first. We’re just trying to get our eyes on him. We just haven’t seen much of him play.
“Obviously, he’s a big piece for us going forward. He’s such a dynamic offensive player. We’re trying to make him fit. I’m trying to get [infield coach Jose Flores] to just get with him as much as possible and we’re going to work hard with him and figure out through this camp where we see him fit.”
Mountcastle walked just 17 times in 127 games with the Keys and Baysox in 2017. His plate discipline improved last year when he walked 36 times in 102 games with Bowie. His .341 on-base percentage was an improvement from the .312 OBP in 2017.
Hyde said he doesn’t look at who’s playing where on the major league roster when considering where Mountcastle winds up.
“I don’t think we’re there with Mountcastle yet,” Hyde said. “We’re still developing. It’s still going on. I want what’s ever best for him. Whatever is really going to help him get to the big leagues and be a big league force offensively.
“We’re just trying to find the right fit for him, and get to know him and make some evaluations on his defense as we go along. Again, with the new coaches and maybe some new ideas, hopefully he gets comfortable and hopefully we find a great spot for him.”
Mountcastle said he was pleased with how he did at first.
“I feel like I did a lot better over there, just getting my throws down, footwork, stuff like that,” he said. “I feel more confident for sure.”
He said he knows what needs to be done.
“Honestly, at first base, it’s just a lot of footwork around the bag and trying to help your teammates out, trying to pick balls, trying to stretch out, do whatever you can to get the out,” Mountcastle said.
There had been some chatter last year that Mountcastle could be given a trial in the outfield, but that’s not something Hyde is considering now.
“That might be down the road,” Hyde said. “Right now, we really want him to focus on his defense in the infield, and then we’ll make a determination later on.”
Mountcastle doesn’t know where he’ll be playing once Grapefruit League games get under way on Saturday, but assumes he’ll see some action at first base.
“I haven’t been told, yet, but I’m assuming I’ll get a couple of games in there,” Mountcastle said.
Hyde remembers that when he was a coach with the Chicago Cubs, the team elevated Kyle Schwarber to the major leagues to be a designated hitter when they played interleague games, and he had great success.
Could Mountcastle forget about a defensive position and begin his career as a DH?
“With a guy like that, I think that’s another special circumstance,” Hyde said.
“I want guys to develop defensively. I want guys to be able to play a position, play it well at the big league level. We’re always looking at guys long-term also, and I think development is obviously really, really important. Development still happens in the big leagues, but I want guys when they get there to have success, so we’ll look at the big picture when it comes to something like that.”