SARASOTA, Florida—This is the year for Ryan Mountcastle to make his regular-season debut for the Orioles. The 23-year-old is getting a long look in left field and an occasional turn at first base.
His spring offensive stats are secondary, although he’s been hitting well. Mountcastle is 8-for-24 (.333) with a home run and four RBIs. He has struck three times and hasn’t walked.
Everyone believes Mountcastle will hit, but the concern is finding a position for him since Chris Davis is still playing first. The feeling is, if Mountcastle hits enough, the concern for his defense lessens. With the speed of Austin Hays in center, Mountcastle would have less ground to cover in left.
In Tuesday’s game at West Palm Beach, Mountcastle couldn’t track down a fly ball hit by Washington’s Juan Soto that turned into a two-run double.
“I think he’s played well,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I know he had a tough ball that drifted on him in the wind, hard to get to, but he’s getting better every day. I think he’s feeling more comfortable. I’m leaving him out there longer than others just to get a little bit more time. He’s coming along.”
Mountcastle did not play in Wednesday’s game against Miami in Jupiter.
His first action in left for the Orioles came on February 22, the team’s first game of the spring.
“It was good. I got a lot of work out there,” Mountcastle said. “I can’t remember how many balls got hit to me, probably five or six. I felt pretty comfortable out there. It was sort of a tough sun, just battling that. It was good for me.”
Mountcastle began his professional career at shortstop, moved to third base in 2017 and last season played 83 games at first base and 29 in left field for Triple-A Norfolk.
“I put it enough work in the offseason and here at camp so far to feel pretty comfortable at those positions,” Mountcastle said. “Anywhere they put me, I’m going to be comfortable. I think I can perform pretty well.”
Mountcastle was the 36th overall pick in 2015 draft and was the International League’s Most Valuable Player as well as the Orioles’ organizational Player of the Year after he hit .312 for Norfolk with 25 home runs and 83 RBIs.
Those numbers were impressive, but the Orioles want him to find a position where he can help them for the long term as well as cut down on strikeouts and increase walks.
“I’ve got to keep working on left field, first base, wherever they want me to go,” Mountcastle said. “Hopefully, they’ll think I’m ready by the time the season starts to be up there and play defense well.”
Last September, general manager Mike Elias said he thought Mountcastle would have to improve his defense and increase his on-base percentage, which was .344 after just 24 walks in 520 at-bats.
Mountcastle knows it’s possible he’ll return to Norfolk, at least long enough to give the Orioles another year of club control.
“If that’s what they want to do, it’s fine with me,” Mountcastle said. “I’ll go work hard there and try to show what I can do there and, hopefully, get called up at some time this year.”
Fans are eager to see Mountcastle and Hays playing side-by-side.
“I’ve played with him for a while, and he’s always been an amazing player,” Mountcastle said about Hays. “He makes spectacular plays in the field. He’s a really good hitter. To play alongside him definitely is fun.”
Mountcastle, whose locker is near Chris Davis, has been seeking out the veteran for counsel.
“He’s got a lot of experience, seeing what he has to say,” Mountcastle said. “I give him my two cents now and again. Learning from everybody around here is definitely good.”
Mountcastle is working hard but said he’s not putting pressure on himself.
““I’ve got to come out here and perform and play my game,” Mountcastle said. “I’m not going to try to press too hard to be like, ‘I’m going to be amazing every day.’ I’m going to go out there and play my game. If that’s good enough, then, great. If not, I’m going to keep working.”
The Orioles issued Mountcastle No. 6, something that he noticed and appreciated.
“It feels good. I think I was 79, 76, big drop down to 6,” Mountcastle said. “It’s definitely cool to get a pretty normal number.”
Hyde is enjoying watching Mountcastle’s development.
“He’s got huge power,” Hyde said. “Getting a look at him right now, watching him in BP right now, he can really drive the ball to the middle of the field. Generates a ton of bat swing. He’s strong. He’s trying to get the ball in the air. When he catches it on the barrel, it goes a long way. There’s a lot of things to like about his swing and now it’s about getting his at-bats.”
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB
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