ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — Neither Austin Hays nor Ryan Mountcastle will be Orioles this year. The former could serve as reasoning for the latter.
Mountcastle and Hays, respectively the Orioles’ Nos. 5 and 6 prospects per Baseball America, won’t be among the franchise’s call-ups over the season’s final month, a club source confirmed Monday. Although that’s disappointing news for fans of a team that’s 45-92, it’s a sensible decision for an organization hoping to reverse that record in coming years.
Mountcastle, the Orioles’ 36th overall pick in 2015, is only 22, but he earned International League Most Valuable Player honors by hitting .312/.344/.527 with 25 home runs for Triple-A Norfolk. That productivity comes despite a walk rate that ranks among the bottom 20 of players with at least 300 plate appearances in the upper levels of the minors.
With 130 strikeouts to 24 walks, plate discipline is a clear area of improvement for Mountcastle, who also lacks a true defensive position. After he spent all of 2018 as a third baseman, the Orioles moved him to first base this year before getting him work in left field. They’re still looking for improvement at both spots. Mountcastle also would need to be added to the 40-man roster to be promoted, which would require another player coming off it.
Unlike Mountcastle, Hays, 24, has major league experience. The Orioles’ 2016 third-round draft pick got added to the 40-man roster and called up in September 2017 after hitting .329/.365/.593 with 32 home runs between High-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie, but his walk rate that reason was only marginally better than Mountcastle’s this year. In 20 games with the Orioles, Hays hit .217/.238/.317 with 16 strikeouts in 60 at-bats.
In that way, Hays could be viewed as a case study for the Orioles’ decision with Mountcastle, though it came under the previous front office regime. In 2017, Hays was a 22-year-old with impressive counting stats but concerning underlying numbers. In 2019, Mountcastle is a 22-year-old with impressive counting stats but concerning underlying numbers, though he put on his power display at a higher level.
Hays in High-A/Double-A in 2017
Batting line (AVG/OBP/SLG): .329/.365/.593
Walk rate: 4.44%
Strikeout rate: 15.10%
Mountcastle in Triple-A in 2019
Batting line: .312/.344/.527
Baltimore Orioles Insider
Walk rate: 4.34%
Strikeout rate: 23.51%
That’s not to say the Orioles believe Mountcastle will suffer a series of injuries over the next couple of years, as Hays did in missing time in 2018 with various ankle injuries and parts of this year with thumb and hamstring issues. It’s that they don’t want to rush Mountcastle into the majors when he’s not ready.
This new front office regime holds a similar belief with Hays, which is partly why he’s heading to the Arizona Fall League instead of Florida to join the Orioles. After another season hampered by injuries, the organization wants Hays to get the regular at-bats needed to put himself in position to make the roster out of spring training in 2020.
As for Mountcastle, the organization likely wants him to get another go at Norfolk in 2020, if only to sort out his defensive question marks and see how he handles the league adjusting to him a second time through.
Tuesday, the Orioles will promote pitchers Ty Blach, Chandler Shepherd, David Hess and Evan Phillips, who have combined for an 8.06 ERA in 42 appearances for them this year, as well as outfielder Mason Williams and a third catcher in Austin Wynns. It’s unlikely any of those additions will provide the jolt of excitement that rookie reliever Hunter Harvey has or that Hays or Mountcastle would have, but they’re logical moves for an organization that’s just trying to get through 2019 and onto better days.
When Williams first appears in a game in an Orioles uniform, he’ll become the 57th player to play for Baltimore this season, besting the franchise record set a year ago. Hays and Mountcastle won’t make it 58, but the organization has more important records in mind.