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Ryan Mountcastle Impressing at Frederick

With the first half of his season winding down, Baltimore Orioles prospect Ryan Mountcastle is coming through with an impressive 2017.

A first-round pick in the 2015 draft, Mountcastle’s power stroke has been evident during his first season at High-A Frederick. Entering Tuesday’s action, he is hitting .328/.355/.581 with 12 home runs and 38 RBI in 56 games. That includes an impressive May, a month during which Mountcastle batted .336/.357/.626 and belted six homers.

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It could be argued that the expectations for Mountcastle were among the highest of any of the Orioles position player prospects coming into the season. As a 19 year old in 2016, he posted a solid .281/.319/.426 triple-slash line with 10 home runs in 115 games at Low-A Delmarva. That provided a reasonable expectation that he could make a swift transition to Frederick, but his relative inexperience (168 professional games) and young age for the Carolina League provided some reasons to approach his forecast with cautious optimism.

Thus far, Mountcastle has been noted for his contributions to Frederick—no small feat given that the Keys’ lineup includes outfielder Austin Hays, another prospect that is highly regarded within the system. Even when considering the complete organization, however, it is clear that Mountcastle is among the players backing his prospect status with solid numbers.

Coming into this season, the consensus of most top prospects rankings for the Orioles farm system was that Mountcastle was among its best players. Looking at a pair of well-known lists, Baseball Prospectus ranked Mountcastle second in the Orioles’ system—behind only catcher Chance Sisco—while Baseball America placed him third, trailing the top-ranked Sisco and right-hander Cody Sedlock, the number two prospect in the system.

In that sense, there are two key questions about Mountcastle: Has his performance thus far put a major dent into the system rankings? And where does his prospect stock seem likely to be at the end of this year?

Looking strictly at the numbers, it would be easy to decide for the here and now to put Mountcastle ahead of both Sedlock and Sisco. While Mountcastle has thrived, Sedlock has had his fair share of ups and downs at Frederick, and Sisco’s offensive production at Triple-A Norfolk is lagging in comparison to his career totals.

Mountcastle’s rise certainly opens that subject up for debate, but it is worth remembering that—even though we should be past the point where the small sample size disclaimer is invoked—there is still time for the seasons of these players to change one way or the other. While Mountcastle could come back down to earth after a torrid May, Sedlock might smooth things out after hitting a rough patch last month, and Sisco’s numbers might start to rise as he gets used to Triple-A pitching—an adjustment that would be no small accomplishment.

The other factor to consider is where Mountcastle ends the season. Given his age, it would be easy to argue that the Orioles have the time to let him spend most of this year at Frederick, and give him a crack at Double-A Bowie next year. However, his numbers to this point and the Orioles’ general willingness in the past to push their offensive prospects up the ladder during the season means that Mountcastle may very well be ticketed to reach Bowie before too long.

Long term, perhaps the biggest question with Mountcastle is the position he will play. It is hard to profile any prospect without having a sense of where he will play the field, and how his defense will factor into his all-around performance.

In the specific case of Mountcastle, it leaves numerous questions. Does he end up as power-hitting shortstop, with a glove that is good enough to hold down the position? Does his physical profile (he is listed at 6’3”, 195 lbs.) and questions about his arm strength make it more likely that his future is at another position, perhaps at a corner infield or corner outfield spot?

Trying to dissect the answer to these questions is important over the long run, as they will say a lot about Mountcastle’s value. His power would not be at as much of a premium at, say, first base or left field as it would shortstop, but that is not an obstacle if he ultimately makes a smooth transition to one of those positions and manages to remain a solid all-around hitter.

For right now, the Orioles sound inclined to give Mountcastle some time at shortstop. Baseball America reported recently that the organization “is going to work on the 20-year-old’s deficiencies and give him every opportunity to succeed at shortstop.” This is a reasonable proposition, as it allows Mountcastle—who is still a young player in A-ball—the time and opportunity to adjust and iron out some of his issues with the position. It also allows the Orioles some time to sort out their needs at the major league level over the coming seasons, and determine if he can fill a void at a position where the team finds itself lacking down the road.

What is clear is that to this point in 2017 is that Mountcastle is earning his place among the system’s best prospects, and will leave plenty of room for optimism going forward if his production continues. 

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Zach Spedden

A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, and Loyola University; Spedden has previously spent time in the Washington Nationals organization as a videographer for the Hagerstown Suns. As a blogger, Spedden is an Editor / Writer for the Suns fan club. Additionally, he contributes to The Nats Blog as a prospect writer, and Ballpark Digest. For BSL, Spedden covers the Orioles Minor Leagues.

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