Jim Henneman’s First 2020 Prediction: Ryan Mountcastle Will Be With Orioles By Mid-April

With the Orioles’ home season in the history books and the handful of remaining games only days behind, it seems like the perfect time to make the first prediction for 2020.

Granted it’s really an educated guess, but it figures to answer the question heard most often around Camden Yards for most of this year, and a good part of last season as well:

“When will Ryan Mountcastle make his major-league debut?”

Based on the interviews he gave while making the rounds after winning the Brooks Robinson Award as the Orioles’ top minor league player, Mountcastle is as curious as the most avid fan — and diplomatic enough to avoid creating any controversy.

As the International League’s reigning MVP, there is no question Mountcastle has checked off most of the boxes needed to earn the promotion. He’s still a little rough around the defensive edges and has some fine-tuning to do with his plate discipline, but it’s only a matter of time — and you can start counting the days.

The company line was the Orioles didn’t add Mountcastle this month because he doesn’t have to be added to the 40-man roster until after the season is over. In reality, considering how this year has gone and the state of the rebuilding program, it made no sense to start Mountcastle’s service time clock before it was necessary — a mistake that was made with Austin Hays two years ago.

Players have six years of major-league time before they can become free agents. It takes 172 days of service time to qualify for the full year, and it has become a common practice for teams to “steal” a couple of weeks at the start in order to gain a seventh year on the back end.

There will be 186 days in the 2020 season, which starts March 26, so the Orioles can gain an extra year of control if Mountcastle spends 15 days in the minor leagues next year. That date is April 9, one day before the O’s open a home stand against the Pittsburgh Pirates, so you can circle April 10 as the earliest date Mountcastle can show up without logging a full year of service time.

The Orioles may want to take a few extra days for a tune-up and juggling of the roster, but it’s a pretty safe bet Mountcastle shows up before April runs its course.

It really is identical to the plan that was in place for Hays last spring. He had been the best player in camp, but also had 34 days of premature service time that needed to be protected. When he was injured in a meaningless minor league spring training game and then shelved again later in the season, all bets were off, and he was no longer under wraps when he joined the Orioles earlier in the month.

Now, there is no longer any doubt where Hays will open the 2020 season. Neither is there much question that he shortly thereafter will be joined by Mountcastle.

Mark the calendar — the first stage of the O’s rebuild is scheduled for next April — and you shouldn’t need 20-20 vision to see it.

It came as no surprise that Dean Albany attracted a lot of interest when the area scout was among those not renewed for next year.

The Baltimore area native and lifelong resident is highly regarded in the industry and had a handful of offers within days of his release by the O’s.

And it was hardly a shock that Albany agreed to a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Albany has a solid history with Phillies executives Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak from their days in Baltimore, so this was a natural fit. He will be a special assignment scout for the Phillies.

My first reaction to the success John Means had in the American League this year was that Bruce Zimmermann, another left-hander in the Orioles’ system, should follow him to Kansas and sign up for the winter program that seemed to pay huge dividends.

The only trouble with my theory is that, for the life of me, I can’t figure out how throwing a heavier ball can help a major-league pitcher, but Means figures it’s how he added the velocity necessary to make his devastating changeup more effective.

I saw Zimmermann in spring training and watched many of his games at Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk on the MILB.TV service and his style is very similar to Means, which leads me to believe that if he can improve his version of the changeup he might be a candidate for similar success. What I didn’t know, but have since found out from Mike Kelly — his coach at Loyola Blakefield — is that Zimmermann is already an advocate of the heavy ball theory.

So, even though school may be out on whether the heavy ball theory is for every pitcher, it will be worth noting if Zimmermann gets a longer than normal look from the O’s next spring. If he can sharpen up his control, who knows?

The Orioles already have more than their share of losses for the year, so despite the revelation that the teams reportedly are analytical teammates, I hope that doesn’t mean they also get charged with the Ravens’ loss to the Chiefs Sept. 22.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com

Photo Credit: Scott Sears/Norfolk Tides