Oriole fans are eager to see Ryan Mountcastle play for the team that drafted him five years ago. Mountcastle is eager to make his major league debut, too.
Mountcastle was drafted as a shortstop, moved to third base in 2017, his third professional season, and last year, at Triple-A Norfolk, played 83 games at first base, 26 in left field and nine at third. He batted .312 and hit 25 home runs.
The Orioles would like to see Mountcastle this summer, and are planning on it. Even though he was named the organization’s top minor league position player last summer and the International League’s Most Valuable Player in 2019, the organization wants him to get more experience in the outfield.
While many fans think that Mountcastle wasn’t added to the major league roster last September to conserve service time, the Orioles believe he needs to master a defensive position to be a useful major leaguer.
For now, Renato Nunez will probably be the regular designated hitter, and manager Brandon Hyde thinks Mountcastle needs to be an all-around player to become an Oriole. Adding him strictly as a designated hitter wouldn’t be in the team’s best interest.
“I’d rather not promote somebody as a DH, ever,” Hyde said in a video conference on Thursday.
“But I do feel like we’re putting a plan together to get as many left field reps as possible with first base being kind of a secondary position at this time. We want him to work in left field, making it as comfortable as we possibly can, really from spring training until now, going forward, to really get him to continue the work on a dally basis in left field.”
Even though the alternate site at Bowie is running with 13 players with the addition of outfielder Yusniel Diaz, left-handed pitcher DL Hall and infielder Ramon Urias, Mountcastle remains with the Orioles.
They’ve said repeatedly that he wouldn’t begin the season with the team but would join them later in the summer.
Wojciechowski watches: During early intrasquad games last week, right-hander Asher Wojciechowski sat in the stands, a few rows behind executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias.
Pitching coach Doug Brocail and bullpen coach Darren Holmes also sit in the stands, as do some top team staffers.
Wojciechowski found the vantage point helpful.
“I was watching just to watch baseball,” Wojciechowski said. .
“I hadn’t seen baseball in a long time. I wanted to watch my teammates. I wanted to watch how guys were throwing, wanted to see how everyone was doing out there. Just wanted to watch some competitive baseball.
“Mostly, I was there to catch some competition and also prepare myself for my starts. When you walk on the mound, it’s not the first time you’ve seen a baseball game. I wanted to get the feeling, that adrenaline of watching a game or getting prepared for a game and just prepare myself for my outings.”
Wojciechowski doesn’t agree with observers who minimize the Orioles’ chances in 2020.
“We all believe in ourselves,” Wojciechowski said. “To be honest, we get really tired of people saying, ‘Oh, they’re rebuilding, they’re not trying.
“We’re all here. We’re professionals. We’re here to compete and to win. If you’re not here to do that, you shouldn’t be here. We’re all here to win to compete. We’re all here to get better, and that’s the goal.”
The additions of left-handers Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone to the 40-man roster on Wednesday have solidified the rotation. The Orioles still could use Milone in a long relief role and add Kohl Stewart, but Wojciechowski thinks having Alex Cobb and John Means makes the starting staff respectable.
“I really like our rotation,” Wojciechowski said. “When people say we’re a rebuilding team, I feel like we have a very veteran rotation, guys with a lot of experience with Wade, Cobb, Milone and John with the experience he had last year and then with the experience I had last year as well.
“We’re going to push each other. We’re going to learn from one another. We all get along great. I think it’s going to be an exciting year for us moving forward and we’re going to get better and go out there and compete every day.”
Another utility year for Wilkerson: Last year, Stevie Wilkerson needed to learn to play center field and, on occasion, fill in as a reliever.
This season, Hyde hopes he doesn’t need Wilkerson in the bullpen and that Austin Hays is the everyday centerfielder.
Wilkerson, who is not on the 40-man roster, is trying to make the team again as a utility player. He’s playing the infield and outfield during workouts.
“I think it’s been a fairly even split,” Wilkerson said. “Even with our individual defense, I normally start at one place and finish up at another. The versatility this year is definitely important. I’ve been trying to get my reps in just about every spot every day.
“I don’t feel like an outfielder. I don’t feel like an infielder. I feel like a baseball player, ready to answer the call at any spot at any day.”
Intrasquad report: In an effort to make Thursday night’s intrasquad game seem more like a regular-season game, the Orioles turned on their scoreboard, pumped in music and crowd noise and used their public address announcer.
Tents were installed in the stands just past the dugouts for overflow personnel.
LeBlanc, who started for the home team wearing white jerseys, allowed a two-run home run to Chris Davis in the first inning. Kohl Stewart started for the visiting team.
Odds and ends: Hyde said that right-hander Dillon Tate, who was hit with a ball in his right elbow on July 10, is still experiencing swelling and is day-to-day … The surgeries for left-hander Ty Blach (elbow) and infielder Richie Martin (wrist) went well, Hyde said.