Schmuck: Calling up top prospects in September might not be in the players’ and the Orioles’ best interest

The Orioles are getting ready to call up some more of their minor league players when the roster limit increases Sunday, but there already is more attention being paid to the player who might not be joining the big league club than the ones who probably will.

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias has left hints that we might not be getting a late-season look at International League Most Valuable Player Ryan Mountcastle, which would be sure to set the message boards ablaze with fan frustration.


That disappointment would be understandable, especially after the terrific offensive numbers that Mountcastle piled up at Triple-A Norfolk and also after the excitement generated by the recent promotion and strong big league debut of pitcher Hunter Harvey.

The fans have every right to want the Orioles to field the most entertaining team possible, but they don’t really have a right to expect that. The O’s have rewarded their top minor league performers with a taste of big league playing time in the past, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do in every circumstance.

It probably seems obvious to anyone who has suffered through two years of unprecedented on-field failure that the club needs do whatever it takes to make September more bearable, but Elias didn’t come here to make a bad team look a little better for a few meaningless weeks. He came with a mandate to create his “elite talent pipeline” and it’s pretty obvious that he’s not a guy who likes to deviate from his master plan.

Elias and manager Brandon Hyde have said repeatedly that this year would be spent taking inventory of the existing talent in the organization, which is why they have gradually rotated upper-level minor league players through the 25-man roster before they have to set their 40-man roster in stone come November.

They don’t need to see Mountcastle for a handful of games to know that he’s one of their most valuable position prospects. He has dominated at Triple-A this year, hitting .308 with 25 home runs, 32 doubles and 80 RBIs over 122 games (through Tuesday).

Hyde said Tuesday that there is nothing that the young outfielder/first baseman could do here next month that would change the club’s opinion of that.

“Whether he comes up here [and does well] or goes 2-for-22,” Hyde said, “it’s not going to change the fact that he had a great season or what we think of him.”

When it comes to the impact of a September call-up on immediate future of the player promoted, the Orioles have gotten mixed results over the past few years. They brought up 22-year-old outfielder Austin Hays at the end of a terrific 2017 minor league season during which he batted .329 with 32 homers and 90 RBIs between High-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie, but he struggled in a 20-game September audition and — largely because of injuries — has only recently begun to look like the same player.

The year before, necessity dictated that the O’s call up first base prospect Trey Mancini, who played in just five games but made a great first impression with three homers and a .357 batting average. He came back the next year to establish himself as an everyday player and ended finishing third in the voting for American League Rookie of the Year.

There are no perfect parallels there to Mountcastle. He’s the same age that Hays was two years ago, but Hays put up his tremendous offensive numbers at the two levels below Triple-A. Mancini was 24 when he was called up and had put up solid numbers at every minor league stop, so he clearly was ready to tackle the next level.

Mountcastle might be ready to hit big league pitching, but he’s still working to improve his defensive tools at two positions that present no immediate need on the major league club. The Orioles are focused on monitoring the development of DJ Stewart and Anthony Santander at the corner outfield positions and have an overcrowded situation at first base.

Mancini has to play regularly, Chris Davis will get a few starts at first or designated hitter and the Orioles hope to add veteran Mark Trumbo to that mix if all goes well in the injury rehabilitation assignment he began at Norfolk on Tuesday.

It wouldn’t sense to bring Mountcastle up if he isn’t going to play regularly and it doesn’t appear there are enough at-bats available to justify taking someone else off the 40-man roster to make room for him.

So, it won’t be a big surprise if the Orioles give Hays another look, bring back catcher Austin Wynns and call up several of the pitchers who have been bouncing back and forth between Baltimore and Norfolk throughout the season.


Sure, it would be more fun to get a look at of one the hottest hitters in the minor leagues, but there’s also something to be said for letting Mountcastle go home with every bit of the swagger he has developed over the past six months and come back ready to compete for a real major league job next spring.