If it seems like it has been a while since the Baltimore Orioles have had a shortstop in their farm system that the “experts” like, well, it has. That has changed a bit thanks to a good 2016 season from Ryan Mountcastle.
Outside of Manny Machado, the Orioles have not had a shortstop prospect that has gotten much press in quite some time.
When the Orioles selected Mountcastle, 19 (turns 20 in February), in the first round (36th overall) of the 2015 MLB Draft, many felt that while he was a quality player, the O’s selected him so high in order to save money for later in the draft. That might be true, but thus far, Mountcastle is proving worthy of his first round status.
The Orioles did sign him for below slot value at $1.3 million, but it didn’t take long for him to prove he was a quality player.
In 43 games with the Orioles’ Gulf Coast League affiliate (Rookie), Mountcastle hit .313 with 10 extra base hits, 14 RBI and scored 21 runs to go along with his .349 on base percentage. Pretty impressive for an 18-year old kid, and the Orioles promoted him to the Short-Season A Aberdeen Ironbirds to finish out the 2015 season where he was playing against guys who were mostly college draftees.
Ready to prove 2015 was no fluke, Mountcastle made the jump to the Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds where he was 2.4 years younger than the average player in the South Atlantic League.
Young age withstanding, Mountcastle proved he belonged by hitting .281 with 10 home runs, 28 doubles, four triples, 51 RBI and scored 53 runs. He also posted a .319 OBP and a .745 OPS. What was more impressive to me, was the fact that Mountcastle posted a 20.9% strikeout rate, which was nearly three points lower than the 23.5% strikeout rate he had in 2015. While it’s fair to say you wouldn’t want a strikeout rate to be above 20%, the fact that Mountcastle lowered his rate by so much, and did that at a higher minor league level is impressive and very promising.
Mountcastle shows the ability to go to all fields, which is a good thing, and I was very impressed with his power for a teenager. Remember, he had 42 extra base hits this season, that’s pretty darn good. He finished among the South Atlantic League leaders in batting average, doubles and total bases.
Of course, when we talk about a shortstop, defense is just as important as the bat. This season Mountcastle posted a .949 fielding percentage at shortstop committing 21 errors in 411 total chances and per MiLB.com, he posted a 3.71 range factor. It’s key to point out that he also improved his fielding percentage this season from his first year with a .949 fielding percentage versus a .944 fielding percentage in 2015. He also had 251 more total chances this year.
Overall, he does need some work defensively if he hopes to remain at shortstop as he progresses up the system. I believe as he learns more about the professional game with positioning, pitch recognition, and the use of scouting reports, he is going to improve defensively, merely by being in the right position more often.
I greatly enjoy the fact that there is a shortstop in the O’s system that is being recognized, and the importance of having quality shortstops in your farm system is key due to their athleticism (see Trea Turner of the Nationals) and ability to adjust to other positions if needed. As long as Mountcastle’s bat continues to perform well, we are going to be hearing a lot about him in 2017.