Ryan Mountcastle certainly turned heads this year in his debut at AAA. At only age 22, Mountcastle led the International League in hits and total bases, but no other major offensive categories. However, he may have been the most consistent hitter in the league, thus earning him 2019 International League Most Valuable Player honors. Mountcastle is the first Norfolk Tide to win the award since 1997. Many consider this to be a major step forward for the former 1st Rounder, but looking deeper into the numbers, this may not be exactly what it seems. I think a number of factors contributed to Mountcastle not getting the call and it shouldn’t disappoint Oriole fans hoping to see one of the team’s top prospects.
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Mountcastle’s biggest knock as a prospect has always been his lack of a defensive position. Mountcastle started off his career at shortstop, but with a 6-3 frame, moving to another position only seemed natural. Mountcastle then moved to third base, but many considered Mountcastle’s weak throwing arm a hindrance for the position. In 2019, the new Orioles regime decided getting him a look at first base made the most sense for his development. For a defensive liability, Mountcastle only registered four errors at first base. Unfortunately, errors don’t always tell the whole story, and Mountcastle was moved to left field for the remainder of the season. This may have been to get another look at him in the outfield, or with Trey Mancini remaining with the team, Mountcastle may as well get reps somewhere else. Since his move to the outfield, Mountcastle has been making leaping grabs. Yes, it remains to be seen where Mountcastle will end up, but his lack of defensive development certainly plays a role in holding him back until next season.
Like I mentioned, Mountcastle certainly had his breakout season in the Orioles season. As much as I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, he still has some issues at the plate to work out. Mountcastle ranked in the Top 20 in the International League in strikeouts with 130 and rarely walks. Mountcastle’s .312/.344/.527 slashline is somewhat impressive, but considering that AAA numbers this year skyrocketed with the new baseballs, this stat line isn’t exactly a world-beater. With an analytics-based organization, Mountcastle will certainly have to walk more, especially for his profile as a power-hitting, 1B/DH-type. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve more than pleasantly surprised by his output, but I still see holes in his game that he could work on and improve upon. If he would simply walk more and make more consistent contact, Mountcastle would not only be a bona-fide Top 50 prospect (at least offensively), but he could make an immediate impact on a major league ball club that could certainly use a spark next year.
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The third and final reason is plain and simple: service time. 1 year of service time = 172 days in the big leagues. MLB seasons now have 187 days, meaning if a team holds back a player until the second week of April, they gain an extra year of control before that player hits free agency. No one really knows when the Orioles will be a winning club again, so it makes the most sense to extend the window of all of your prospects. This has certainly been a common practice recently with the likes of Kris Bryant and Vlad Guerrero Jr. receiving this treatment. With Mountcastle being the first of the top Oriole prospects expected to make his debut under this regime, it seems only natural that the team’s front office would want to squeeze out an extra year. Now, I would be shocked if he makes the Opening Day roster next year, effectively negating the logic of not promoting him now.
Ryan Mountcastle is especially exciting for us fans. He represents more than just another power bat. He represents the first wave of the rebuild. Mountcastle was drafted under Dan Duquette, but even the Astros had several players already in the system from the old regime that would eventually play on the 2017 Championship ball club. Even with my negativity in the past few paragraphs, I think Orioles fans should be elated at the potential ceiling of Ryan Mountcastle. I still remember a couple of fanfests ago, the then prominent Front Office member Brady Anderson touting Mountcastle as ‘different.’ Anderson said, “The sound off his bat is just different.”
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— Maximum Adley Sports Network (@MASNOriolez) September 2, 2019
Mountcastle hits moonshots at Harbor Park (not considered a hitter’s park). I’m simply saying, Mountcastle isn’t without flaws and I think not calling up Mountcastle is totally justified at this point and we can look forward anticipating his future as a big leaguer.