MOOSIC, Pa.—It seems as if Ryan Mountcastle has been in the Orioles’ farm system for years, waiting for that call. Actually, Mountcastle is only 22, but he’s in his fifth season since being chosen 36th overall in the 2015 draft.
Mountcastle was drafted as a shortstop, moved to third base, and is playing first base for the first time this year with the Triple-A Norfolk Tides.
“I’ve gotten a lot of work in over the past couple of months,” Mountcastle said “I feel pretty confident … I’ve played the corner infield before. I already knew how to use the drop step. Besides that, I thought it was a pretty easy adjustment.”
Everyone seems to agree that Mountcastle will hit in the major leagues. The Orioles just wanted to find a position for him. They didn’t want Mountcastle to be one of the few prospects who come into the majors as a designated hitter.
They also wanted him to work on being more selective at the plate.
This year, Mountcastle is hitting .302 with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs and an .832 OPS. He’s always been an aggressive hitter, and this season has struck out seven times for each walk (64/9).
“He’s holding his own,” Norfolk manager Gary Kendall said. “There are times when Ryan needs to work a little bit on his pitch selection. I think sometimes … there’s not a pitch he doesn’t feel he can’t hit.
“He’s always looking aggressively to swing the bat, but there’s times that I think he can create some bad counts and put himself in a bad spot because he doesn’t take certain pitches or he swings at some pitches that aren’t in the strike zone.”
When Mountcastle was with the Orioles in spring training 2018, former manager Buck Showalter urged Mountcastle to be more selective. In 2017, which Mountcastle split between High-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie, he walked just 17 times—only three times in 39 games with the Baysox.
In 2018, Mountcastle went back to Bowie, where Kendall managed him. He took more pitches and walked 26 times in 102 games, the most walks he’s had as a professional.
“If he’s going to swing at balls, they’ll never throw him strikes,” Kendall said.
Mountcastle is growing stronger, and his 12 homers in 61 games, roughly one in every five games, is exciting the Orioles. Mountcastle is an attentive student at the plate.
“Guys know how to pitch,” Mountcastle said of Triple-A pitchers. “They throw all their pitches for strikes. They attack your weaknesses. They study you. You’ve just got to adjust and have a good approach at the plate.”
The move to first base has helped Mountcastle’s confidence in the field. A year ago, he had 16 errors in 81 games at third base for Bowie. This year, he’s made just four in 51 games at first for the Tides.
“At first base, it’s coming along,” Kendall said. “He’s making good decisions on reading hops, picking more balls in the dirt than he used to. That’s something we’ve addressed at home in early work.”
Last month, Orioles general manager Mike Elias said he wanted to see Mountcastle and left-handed pitcher Keegan Akin have extended stays in their first year at Triple-A. When they come up to the Orioles, Elias wants them polished enough to stay up instead of riding the Norfolk shuttle.
“I usually try and live in the present, live in the now,” Mountcastle said. “You try not to get too anxious about whether you’re called up or not. I’m excited to possibly get called up.”
At Norfolk, Mountcastle sees teammates regularly called up by the Orioles.
“Any guy in this locker room [knows] when you’re in Triple-A, you’re one step away, you’re one call away,” Mountcastle said. “It’s cool, to see your friends get called up and produce in the big leagues is always fun to see. Just watching those guys perform up there and, hopefully, I’ll be up there one day. That would be cool.”
Mountcastle will have to be added to the 40-man roster this fall, and it’s possible that he won’t get added to the Orioles’ roster until the Tides’ season is complete in September. He’s willing to be patient.
“Whatever they need, whatever it takes,” Mountcastle said. “I’m willing to wait and, hopefully, I’m in their plans.”