The Orioles hoped that Ryan Mountcastle’s 2022 season would be even better than his 2021 season. In some ways it was, but in most ways it wasn’t.
In 2021, Mountcastle set an Oriole rookie record with 33 home runs. He drove in 89 runs and hit .255. This year, Mountcastle hit 22 homers, drove in 85 runs and hit .250.
His walk-to-strikeout ratio was nearly identical. In 144 games in 2021, Mountcastle struck out about four times as often as he walked (161/41). This season, he struck out 154 times and walked 43 times in 145 games.
According to Jason Bernard, Manager, Baseball Research and Development for Major League Baseball, the Orioles lost 31 home run balls to the new left-field dimensions — nearly 30 feet deeper and 6 feet higher — at Oriole Park. Mountcastle had five of them.
Despite that, Mountcastle still hit better at home than he did on the road. He hit 11 home runs at Camden Yards, and 11 in road games. The year before, he hit 22 at home, and 11 on the road. His batting average at home was .274. Away from home, it was .227. In 2021, it was also .274 at home and .233 in road games.
Perhaps because of the farther and higher left-field wall, Mountcastle went to the opposite field more. He had 17 hits to right field in 2021 and 36 in 2022.
The most puzzling part of Mountcastle’s year was that during July and August, when the Orioles played their best, he had his worst months.
Mountcastle hit just .195 with a home run and 10 RBIs in July and .202 with four homers and 17 RBIs in August, The Orioles were 33-19 in those months. After September 1st, when the Orioles were 15-18, Mountcastle hit better, with a .279 average and .804 OPS.
For the first four months of the season, Mountcastle was primarily a first baseman with occasional appearances as the designated hitter. Trey Mancini was the primary DH and occasionally spelled Mountcastle at first.
But after the August 1st trade of Mancini to Houston, Mountcastle played even more at first and had only Tyler Nevin to back him up. Four weeks later, Nevin was sent to Triple-A Norfolk. For the final five weeks of the season, veteran Jesús Aguilar was Mountcastle’s backup.
Mountcastle hit better as a first baseman (.259 with 20 home runs and 78 RBis in 123 games) than as a DH (.203 with two home runs and seven RBIs in 21 games).
His play at first improved significantly, and he had a number of impressive stops. However, he still had a -.7 Defensive WAR (Wins Above Replacement), an improvement of his -1.4 Defensive WAR in 2021. According to The Fielding Bible, Mountcastle had 1 Defensive Run Saved at first in 2022. He had -.1 in 2021.
Overall, Mountcastle had a 1.4 WAR, up from .9 in 2021.
Nevin started just seven games at first and hit .197 with two home runs and 16 RBIs in 58 games. Most of his starts (40) came as a third baseman. He was optioned to Norfolk in late August when Gunnar Henderson was recalled. Nevin finished the year with the Orioles after Ramón Urías was placed on the injured list because of a sprained right knee.
There are a number of internal candidates for Oriole infield spots, and it might be difficult for Nevin, who also plays the corner outfield spots but not the middle infield, to find a place on the 2023 team.
Aguilar, who was a National League All-Star in 2018 when he hit 35 home runs and drove in 108 runs for Milwaukee, hit only .224 with a home run and two RBIs in 16 games with the Orioles. He’s a free agent and isn’t likely to return in 2023.
While it’s hardly a priority for the Orioles, they do have to decide who can back up Mountcastle in 2023.
During the season, second baseman Terrin Vavra took ground balls at first but didn’t play there in a game. Anthony Santander played nine games at first in High-A ball, just before he was taken by the Orioles in the Rule 5 draft from Cleveland in 2016. Like Vavra, Santander worked out at first base before games but didn’t play there.
While the Orioles have prospects at every other position in the minors, they’ve selected only two first basemen — Andrew Daschbach, 11th round, 2019; and Jacob Teter, 13th round, 2021 in Mike Elias’ first four drafts.
Daschbach, a college classmate of Kyle Stowers at Stanford, signed for $250,000 but hit only .192 at Double-A Bowie with 15 homers and 46 RBIs in 2022. He struck out 165 times in 103 games.
Teter was limited to 37 games with High-A Aberdeen in 2022 because of an ankle injury and hit .285 with four home runs and 26 RBIs.
It’s possible that Coby Mayo, who was drafted in the fourth round of the 2020 draft, could move from third to first base. Mayo played first twice for Bowie this season.
Another one of the Orioles’ talented minor league infielders or outfielders could be converted to a first baseman to provide a suitable backup for Mountcastle.
Nevin seems to be the in-house favorite as Mountcastle’s backup for now, but it’s an area the Orioles might address over the winter.