Baltimore Orioles: Will we see Ryan Mountcastle in 2019?
Will Renato Nunez be able to fill the void at third base for the Baltimore Orioles in 2019, or will the team call upon prospect Ryan Mountcastle to make an impact?
The Baltimore Orioles have question marks all over the diamond heading into 2019, and third base is no exception. Many expect that Renato Nunez will retain his spot in the starting lineup, and he’ll more than likely have the first opportunity to hold down the hot corner for the Orioles next year. But top prospect Ryan Mountcastle will be aiming to take the spot from Nunez, and potentially as soon as 2019.
After the team claimed him off waivers from the Texas Rangers in May, Nunez was one of the better hitters for the Orioles in 2018. In 60 games, Nunez hit .275/.336/.445 with 7 home-runs and provided average defense at the hot corner. Nunez was an average hitter on a team that didn’t have many average hitters, and that helped him stand out.
Don’t get me wrong, Nunez has potential. He’ll be entering his age-25 season next year and there’s still room for development at the plate. It’s well within the realm of possibility that Nunez becomes an above-average major leaguer and a long-term solution at third. And for what it’s worth, Ryan Mountcastle isn’t an exceptional defensive third baseman.
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Drafted as a shortstop in 2015, Mountcastle has earned his pedigree as a prospect with the bat, not the glove. He started transitioning from short to third in 2017 before becoming a full-time third-baseman in 2018 for the Baysox. But that pedigree is well-earned. In his four years in the Orioles system, Mountcastle has hit .289/.323/.453, including an .806 OPS with 13 homers at Bowie last year.
Mountcastle is currently the number two prospect in the Orioles system and the number 63 prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline. The question at this point is when the Orioles will start Mountcastle’s service time clock, and it’ll likely depend on how Nunez plays next year.
It’s highly doubtful that Mountcastle makes the roster out of spring training. Unless there are a bevy of injuries, he’s almost certainly starting the year in the minors. Considering he barely has a season’s worth of at-bats at the Double-A level, that extra time might be good for his development. And there’s also the chance that the Orioles don’t want to start Mountcastle’s service time clock until absolutely necessary; not that Mountcastle is the same type of talent, but we’ve seen the Blue Jays do the same thing to Vlad Guerrero Jr.
But if Nunez goes cold for a stretch in 2019, the Orioles could look to make a move, and Mountcastle makes the most sense. Short-term options like Steve Wilkerson and Breyvic Valera can help fill the void for a time, but we’re assuming that Mountcastle can be the Orioles third-baseman of the future. It makes sense to get him as many big-league plate appearances as possible, as long as he’s ready for them.
What we don’t want to see, as mentioned, is a Vlad Jr. situation where the Orioles keep Mountcastle in the minors for an extended period of time, solely because the O’s aren’t good.
Interim GM Brian Graham was quoted in an October 2018 MiLB.com article, saying, of Mountcastle, “He’s making strides and getting better defensively, so for right now, he’s probably on to the next level and watch the bat continue to grow”.
That might mean the plan is to send Mountcastle to Norfolk in 2019 and let him play out the season there. We just don’t want to see talent sitting idle in the minors while the Orioles continue to wallow in despair.
If Nunez provides plus-production at third in 2018, that’s great; we’re all hoping he can do so. But Mountcastle’s time in the majors is coming, and hopefully sooner than later.