Ryan Mountcastle looked like a big leaguer from the very first day he was promoted to the Orioles.
Manager Brandon Hyde had the confidence to put Mountcastle, 23, into the everyday lineup right away, and he quickly became one of the team’s best hitters.
Mountcastle finished the season hitting .333/.386/.492 with five home runs and 23 RBIs, which led to him being named to the MLB Pipeline and Baseball America all-rookie teams. Not bad for a player who didn’t make his MLB debut until Aug. 21. Now, he could be a cornerstone player for years to come.
“The at-bats were quality. The effort was spectacular. He looked good in left field. Running hard on every play. He just carried himself like a big leaguer from the very first day up here,” Orioles general manager Mike Elias said. “I think that’s special. Even guys that have turned into stars struggled with that transition. That fact that he didn’t doesn’t mean it’s going to be smooth sailing the rest of his career, but it’s certainly a good thing. He’s a really exciting part of the future.”
Mountcastle delivered his first major-league hit with an infield single in the ninth inning against the Boston Red Sox Aug. 22. His first career home run came eight days later against the Toronto Blue Jays.
From there, he began to produce on a regular basis. He reached base safely in 27 of his 35 games. He led the team in RBIs after joining the club (23) and drove in a run in five straight games from Sept. 4-9, including multi-RBI efforts in three of the five (nine total RBIs during the stretch).
Mountcastle turned into one of the Orioles’ most consistent hitters. He could be a key hitter in the middle of the lineup in 2021 and beyond.
“You need to have confidence in yourself,” Mountcastle said. “I know these guys are really good up here. So, I went up with a clear head and whatever happens, happens. That’s about it. All of the guys have been helpful. I mean, I talk to Jose Iglesias a lot and some of the other veteran guys like Bryan Holaday. Whenever I get the chance, I ask them a question or two. They are always positive.”
Fans had been clamoring for Mountcastle’s promotion since last season. In 2019, he earned the Orioles’ Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year award and was named the International League MVP at Triple-A Norfolk. In 127 games with the Tides, he slashed .312/.344/.527 (162-for-520) with 35 doubles, one triple, 25 home runs, 81 runs and 83 RBIs.
However, the Orioles remained patient with Mountcastle. Before his promotion this summer, the club tasked him with working on his defense in left field and his plate discipline at the alternate site at Double-A Bowie. The door opened for Mountcastle when Chris Davis went on the injured list in August with left knee patellar tendinitis.
Mountcastle especially impressed coaches with his poise at the plate.
“The guys in development really like him, really thought he was going to be an impact hitter,” Orioles hitting coach Don Long said. “What I’ve really liked about him is he’s got a good presence in the box. He’s certainly very talented, has the ability to drive the ball. I’ve been really impressed overall with his two-strike approach and the way that he’s handled himself against really good pitching.”
“He’s facing so many people for the very first time and that’s a challenge in and of itself — and then having the ability to put together good at-bats,” Long added. “I think he’s chasing less, certainly, than his numbers in Triple-A last year, and I think that will continue to improve as he gains experience and just figures out who he’s facing and he’s had the opportunity to see them before.”
The biggest adjustment for Mountcastle in the majors wasn’t altering his style of play. Instead, it was the surreal experience playing games in empty stadiums because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
His parents were not able to attend his major-league debut. Instead, they stayed at home and had a watch party with family and friends. Mountcastle had long anticipated boisterous fans during his debut, but he was met with mostly silence instead.
“There [were] no crowds this year. I thought the bigger crowds might have been the biggest transition,” he said. “The pitchers are better. The game is a little bit faster. You have to be ready to play every day.”
In addition to playing the outfield, Mountcastle also got some time at first base toward the end of the season. He had worked out at first base at the alternate site and during spring training after playing the position some at Norfolk in 2019. It was mostly a seamless transition thanks to Mountcastle’s athleticism.
“I think it’s important also that guys have secondary positions, guys are able to play multiple places around the field,” Hyde said. “As you get better as a team, I think you’re always going to want to get guys in the lineup, so guys being able to play other spots is important.”
Moving forward, Mountcastle has not set any individual goals as far as stats. He’s focused on the big picture with the team and eventually competing for a playoff spot. He’s excited to be part of the new youth movement that also includes former No. 1 pick Adley Rutschman.
“For sure, we have a lot of talent coming up through the system,” Mountcastle said. “Some of the younger guys are starting to get their chance like myself, and it’s pretty fun to see.”
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