Each week, MiLB.com profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken to reach the brink of realizing his Major League dream. Here's a look at Baltimore Orioles prospect Ryan Mountcastle. For more player journeys on The Road to The Show, click here.
With no Minor League season last year, many prospects were shoved into the proverbial Major League deep end. Few thrived under this circumstance more than Ryan Mountcastle .
The fifth-ranked Orioles prospect earned a Rookie of the Year vote for his 35-game stint in Baltimore during the pandemic-shortened season. He batted .333/.386/.492 with five homers, five doubles and 23 RBIs in 126 at-bats. He was advanced enough at the plate to post a higher walk percentage (7.3) than he had during his five previous years in professional ball, all while moving to a fourth different position.
MLB.com’s No. 77 overall prospect broke into the professional ranks as a shortstop when he was drafted in 2015.
As a Draft prospect, scouts took notice of his strength and power potential, but his future as a shortstop was already in question. He stayed at short for most of his Minor League career, but picked up significant playing time at third and first base. The Orioles used their young prospect at first and in left field, a position he played for 26 games in his final year at Triple-A in 2019.
“He's a big, athletic guy who can hit and he's got power. He's always kind of been that. The question was the position he was going to play,” Baltimore's director of player development Matt Blood told MiLB.com. “Ultimately, he's found himself in left field and he seems to be getting pretty comfortable there. … We hope we can run more guys like him out there that have success offensively right away and can find a comfortable position where they can help a big league team.”
He was the No. 110 Draft prospect and was signed away from his University of Central Florida commitment with an above-slot $1.3-million bonus after the Orioles selected him No. 36 overall. Baltimore took a chance on the young slugger, who hit the ground running after the Draft.
2015 (Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, Class A Short Season Aberdeen)
Mountcastle played 53 games in his first season in 2015 and reached the New York-Penn League for the final 10 games of the year. He finished fifth in batting average (.313) and ninth in homers (four) and slugging percentage (.411) in the GCL. He did not fare as well with the IronBirds, batting .212/.206/.303 with a homer and five RBIs.
"First impression is very good," former Orioles director of player development Brian Graham told MiLB.com. "It's difficult for a high school hitter to hit .300 in the Gulf Coast League, and he did it. He makes all the plays defensively, he's a gamer and he comes to play every day. Offensively, he has a chance to be a good hitter."
He checked in as Baltimore's No. 11 prospect after his first season, but showed the capabilities of a quick riser.
2016 (Class A Delmarva)
The Orioles were aggressive with Mountcastle and decided to start him in full-season ball as a 19-year-old. In 115 games with the Shorebirds, he batted .281/.319/.426 and finished eighth in the South Atlantic League with 128 hits.
"Really impressive for a first-year player in full-season baseball," Graham told MiLB.com. "Really impressive offensively. Very mature approach to hitting. ... This is a guy that the quality of his at-bats were really impressive. He'd work the count; he'd hit the ball to all fields. He hit in the middle of the lineup all year."
Mountcastle also began to show off his gap-to-gap power in Delmarva, registering 28 doubles, four triples and 10 homers. According to FanGraphs, he hit the ball to the opposite field 34.3 percent of the time in 2016, a mark he posted at just one other point in his career.
2017 (Class A Advanced Frederick, Double-A Bowie)
On the strength of his advanced bat, Mountcastle reached the Eastern League as a 20-year-old in 2017. He was one of the better hitters in the Carolina League for 88 games before a July promotion.
Even though he was there for just a little more than half a season, Mountcastle's 51 extra-base hits topped the circuit. His 35 doubles were second-most and his 195 total bases stood fourth in the Carolina League. He batted .314/.343/.542 with 15 homers and 47 RBIs with the Keys.
"He swung the bat well, had a ton of doubles, improved defensively as the year progressed," Graham said.
Mountcastle doubled 13 more times in Double-A to finish with a Minor League-leading 48. He didn’t find the consistent success he enjoyed before the promotion, batting .222/.239/.366 with three doubles and 15 RBIs. His struggles were underscored by a 1.9 walk percentage and a .265 BABIP, the lowest of his career since his difficult stint in Aberdeen.
He collected seven extra-base hits and 14 RBIs in 21 games with Salt River in the Arizona Fall League, but his average was below par at .244.
2018 (Double-A Bowie)
Mountcastle had the opportunity to get regular at-bats in big league Spring Training, but suffered a hand fracture in a back field game that pushed his 2018 debut to May 10.
“Missing time isn't easy, but you can't be trying to overdo things based on what your teammates have already done," Mountcastle told MiLB.com after collecting three hits in his first game back. "My overall power and RBI numbers may be down because I missed a month, but I'm just going to go out there and do my thing. It was fun being back out there with my teammates."
He finished with a .297/.341/.464 slash line, 13 homers, four triples, 19 doubles and 59 RBIs in 102 games. The native of Winter Springs, Florida, also left the shortstop position behind in 2018 and played all 81 contests at third base.
"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," Graham told MiLB.com. "The maturity as a young hitter that he showed this year was outstanding. He competed extremely well, his recognition of pitches was much better this year. He recognized off-speed pitches, breaking balls, showed power."
2019 (Triple-A Norfolk)
Mountcastle got his first taste of the award spotlight when he was named International League MVP in 2019. He led the Minors with 162 hits while batting .312/.344/.527, 25 homers and 83 RBIs, all of which were career highs. The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder also doubled 35 times and learned a new position that would be paramount to his future.
"He really just put together a fantastic year," Baltimore director of Minor League operations Kent Qualls told MiLB.com. "Really, the most complete year as a pro that he's had, and what was interesting with all that offensive production was that he was also learning two new positions. We put him at first, and midway through the season, left field was introduced as well. So to have that year offensively while learning two new positions is pretty remarkable."
Mountcastle probably didn’t have much left to prove in the Minors heading into 2020. But he opened the pandemic-delayed season at the club’s alternate site in Bowie and played well above expectation in his first opportunity in the Majors.
The return of Trey Mancini in Baltimore likely cements Mountcastle’s future in left field. But the 24-year-old made an excellent first impression for a group -- led by Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez, Heston Kjerstad and DL Hall -- of Top 100 prospects who can turn things around for a franchise five years removed from its previous postseason appearance.
Gerard Gilberto is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Gerard_Gilberto.