Ryan Mountcastle is a Player to Watch in 2018
Following his performance in 2017, it is safe to say that Ryan Mountcastle’s prospect stock is on the rise. Across two levels, he batted .287/.312/.489 while belting a career-high 18 home runs in 513 plate appearances—a season that cemented his place as one of the top prospects in the Baltimore Orioles’ farm system.
In terms of his ranking among prospects within the organization, Mountcastle’s standing can be rather subjective depending upon the method one would use to create the list. That said, the recent ranking by my BSL colleague Reggie Yinger is a good reflection of Mountcastle’s place in the system. Reggie’s list captures both Mountcastle’s proven attributes (his offensive production) and some of the questions surrounding him (defense) in a ranking that places him third—behind only number-one prospect Chance Sisco, and the second place Austin Hays.
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If I were to rewrite that list with my own assessments, those three players would top my rankings in the exact same order. At a certain point in 2018, however, that is likely going to change, as both Sisco and Hays appear poised to fulfill their rookie qualifications in the majors next year—effectively removing themselves from prospect lists for good.
Should that happen in the early stages of the season, Mountcastle is most likely to become something of a de facto top prospect, and one that comes with plenty of intrigue. While his overall numbers were strong last year, his .222/.239/.366 line in 39 games at Double-A Bowie suggest that another stint at the level may not hurt. Furthermore, the Orioles are working with Mountcastle on a position change. After playing an overwhelming majority of his professional games at shortstop, Mountcastle appeared at third base in 37 contests during his 2017 stint at Bowie. The position shift followed him to the Arizona Fall League, where he appeared in 21 games for the Salt River Rafters.
There are no guarantees at this point that third base is Mountcastle’s ultimate landing spot, but it seems that the Orioles are putting him on that track for now. How he progresses on defense will be watched as closely as his production at the plate, and will lend more certainty to how he is evaluated going forward.
As for his 2018 path, a return to Bowie could prove to be short term if Mountcastle gets off to a good start at the level. That would likely lead to a promotion to Triple-A Norfolk, if there is no immediate need for him in Baltimore.
A 2018 major league debut could be in the offing if he is able to make that transition, but how it would occur remains to be seen. The Orioles could decide to handle him as they treated Sisco and Hays in 2017, and reward him with a late-season promotion and partial playing time. Or, they could look to bring him to the majors sooner in the event of an injury or trade.
If he sticks at third base next season, the player that could most greatly affect Mountcastle’s timing in reaching the majors is Manny Machado. For now, Machado appears all but certain to be the Orioles starting third baseman on Opening Day, and will stay in that role all year if the club is contending or (in the conceivably less likely event) he is given a contract extension before reaching free agency. However, if the Orioles struggle and Machado appears all but certain to test the open market, then a trade becomes the most logical move.
In that event, Mountcastle may find himself at that point as Machado’s successor for whatever remains of the 2018 season, and give the Orioles a chance to see how he handle third base at the major league level. It will be a while before it is determined how these factors will play out, but Mountcastle is certainly a player to watch for the organization in 2018.