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Orioles working with Ryan Mountcastle to keep him at shortstop long term

Eduardo A. Encina reports on the first day of Orioles minicamp in Sarasota, Fla. (Eduardo A. Encina, Baltimore Sun video)

SARASOTA, FLA. — The Orioles believe former first-round draft pick Ryan Mountcastle's future is at shortstop. And given the organization's lack of middle-infield depth, it would be beneficial for Mountcastle, one of the club's top prospects, to advance through the system at his natural position.

Mountcastle is just 19 years old, selected with the 36th overall pick in 2015 with the compensation pick the Orioles received after losing Nelson Cruz to free agency. He is coming off his first full pro season, and while Mountcastle is the Orioles' third-best prospect according to Baseball America, the club must still determine whether his future is at shortstop.

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That's why Mountcastle is at the team's spring training complex in Sarasota this week, working with minor league infield coordinator Dave Anderson on a throwing program the Orioles hope will help Mountcastle improve his arm strength and mechanics.

Mountcastle began the program during instructional league in September and continued it through the offseason, a routine that includes exercises with tension bands, a weighted dumbbell program to strengthen his shoulder and weightlifting routines designed by the team's strength and conditioning coaches. This week, Anderson flew cross country from California to work with Mountcastle for three days to help him with his mechanics and every aspect of his throwing motion.

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"This was a good time to check and evaluate where he is," Orioles player development director Brian Graham said. "He looks a lot better. His mechanics look good. … It's not a secret his throwing strength isn't as good as we'd like it to be. That's not a secret. We know that. … This kid is a pretty good player. And that's just an area he needs to get better at."

The Orioles have high hopes for Mountcastle offensively. They like his tools at the plate and they believe he can continue to build on a season in which he hit .281/.319/.426 with 28 doubles, four triples, 10 homers and 51 RBIs in 115 games for Low-A Delmarva. But Mountcastle also committed 21 errors at shortstop last season.

"I'd like to improve on all aspects of the game," Mountcastle said. "With fielding, I want to be more confident and just really get better with fielding, and hitting will come, too. … I feel good out there. I got a lot of positives out of [last year]. I know what I need to work on and I just can't wait for this coming year."

Graham said the program is aimed at improving not only arm strength but also arm speed, both of which should help him as a shortstop.

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"We are trying to get him mechanically in a good position to improve and increase both," Graham said. "Keep in mind, I want to make a note again, this guy is a good player. This guy can swing the bat, he's smart, got great makeup. We need to get his arm to a higher level of playing ability at the shortstop position."

Mountcastle said he already feels that the program is paying off.

"Everything is good," he said. "Everything feels a lot better. … With some of this throwing stuff, it's about having the same repetition every time, the same routine, the same throwing motion every time so you can stay consistent."

eencina@baltsun.com
twitter.com/EddieInTheYard

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