A Wide Range of Outcomes for Orioles’ Ryan Mountcastle
The team expects him to hit in the middle of the order. He expects to be part of the core for the future. The fans expect him to be a Rookie of the Year candidate. There are high expectations for Ryan Mountcastle as the 2021 Major League Baseball season gets underway and it could be tough to meet them.
Mountcastle is coming off a brief 2020 debut where he impressed the Orioles coaching staff and fanbase, posting a .333/.386/.492 slash line in thirty-five games, good enough for an eye-popping 140 OPS+ and 0.9 WAR in that limited span. Even though he still has rookie eligibility, Mountcastle played so well he finished eighth in ROTY voting last season.
Obviously, no one expects him to put up Hall of Fame numbers going forward, but the shiny small-sample stats do raise the bar a bit. After winning the International League MVP award in 2019, Mountcastle proved he can hit Major League pitching, and his defense has not been an embarrassment, at least not so far. His walk rate was up last season, but there is no indication yet that he has made a permanent improvement in plate discipline.
That brings us to Spring Training of this year, and now that the Grapefruit League has ended, we can look at his complete stats from Florida. Before you say anything, I will not overreact to games where the scores do not matter, but I think we can take away at least a little bit of his performance. Mountcastle got into seventeen Spring games, easily the most in Orioles camp. He hit a lopsided .235/.245/.569–cue the small-sample sirens. Out of his twelve hits, five were doubles and four were home runs, and he drew a grand total of one walk.
For the most part, I am willing to throw out his Spring line. He was clearly swinging for the fences every at-bat, which led to many extra bases but few hits overall. The Orioles video page on their website is filled with his highlights, which further raises our confidence in him but ignores all of his outs. I am concerned about him only drawing a single walk, though. Yes, he might have just been swinging freely in exhibitions, but this is a big step down from his 7.8% walk rate from last season.
Going into the regular season I expect Mountcastle to slow down his approach. Now that the games matter, he has to be more patient and work his plate appearances. No one is taking away his aggressiveness or saying he can’t swing at the first pitch, but walks can only be good things for hitters. There is no doubt at this point he will hit for a high average with good power, but those numbers will only go up more if he forces pitchers to throw over the plate.
Long term the big question might be his defensive ability and position, but for this year he is a sure bet to be in left field most nights. He will also fill in at first base, and maybe third due to an injury. He does not have good instincts off the bat, but his underrated speed makes up for slow reads. Fielding the ball should not be much of an issue, and we have seen him make a few web gems, including a home run robbery a couple of weeks back. With Austin Hays in center, Mountcastle won’t have to cover much ground.
Ryan Mountcastle might not live up to the lofty expectations we have set for him, but he will be a reliable hitter. Joe Trezza just projected him for team MVP, and MLB Pipeline ranks him eighth in their Rookie Power Ratings. The fans are not the only ones who see good things in his future.