BRADENTON, Fla. — The Orioles gleaned plenty from top prospect Ryan Mountcastle’s big league camp this year, and before sending one of the organization’s most promising young players back to minor league camp Sunday, manager Buck Showalter issued Mountcastle a challenge.
Mountcastle and fellow first-round pick DJ Stewart were among the Orioles’ latest roster cuts, which came before the team’s road Grapefruit League game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at LECOM Park. Right-hander Alec Asher was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk, trimming the big league camp roster to 45 players.
The 21-year-old Mountcastle’s bat played well in his first big league camp as he had a .292/.320/.667 slash line with three doubles, two homers and five RBIs in 13 Grapefruit League games. In his final game in big league camp, Mountcastle hit an opposite-field three-run homer as part of a two-hit game in the Orioles’ 7-3 road win over the Boston Red Sox on Sunday afternoon.
Mountcastle also showed that his transition to third base — he was moved from shortstop when he was promoted to Double-A Bowie in midseason last year — is still a work in progress. He was charged with two errors this spring and struggled finding his footing at third.
He showed up several days before the mandatory position-player report day and worked with major league infield coach Bobby Dickerson and minor league infield coordinator Dave Anderson on the back fields of the Ed Smith Stadium complex to improve his footwork. Throughout camp, instructors preached the importance of using his feet to create a more fluid field-and-throw routine, much in the style of Gold Glove infielders before him such as J.J. Hardy and Manny Machado.
Showalter meets with every player before he is cut. He asks them what has worked for them over their professional careers, he inquires about their goals, and asked them to rate their tools.
But in meeting with Mountcastle on Monday morning before he was reassigned, Showalter impressed on him the importance of showing this season that he can be more patient at the plate. Despite a strong offensive season during which Mountcastle hit.287/.312/.489/.802 between High-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie — including a .314 average with the Keys that netted him the Carolina League batting title, Mountcastle walked just 17 times last season. He’s walked only 51 times in 1,236 plate appearances in his three-year pro career.
“I said, ‘What do you see yourself doing next year?’ ” Showalter said Monday. “I said, ‘I noticed last year that you only walked 17 times. What was that all about?’ He started laughing. And I told him, ‘Understand [that] it’s not funny. This won’t work.’ … He said, ‘I’m a free swinger.’ I said, ‘Then you need to correct that.’ ”
“ ‘You notice I never put you in foul ground at third base, because I don’t need you to defend what’s foul,’ ” Showalter said he told Mountcastle. “ ‘We can’t teach you to defend a ball that’s 2 feet out of the strike zone, so if you don’t solve that, if I look down there and you’ve walked 17 times this year, you’re going to go back to that level. You’ve got to figure it out.’ It’s like learning how to play third base. If you’re walking 17 times in the big leagues, it don’t work. So if you get picky, that’s something you’d like to see him do. But he’s got a chance to be really good.”
Stewart, 24, hit .211/.318/.211 in 13 games, with four singles in 19 at-bats. He mostly played left field but also experimented in right field. He was in his first big league camp after a breakout season at Bowie.
Both benefited from their first big league camp, Showalter said.
“I think being around the routine, the professionalism [was important],” Showalter said. “I think it’s understanding their work, whether it’s in the weight room, whether its their eating, their sleep, the whole thing that goes into them being successful and being around [professionals]. They see we have some fun and when it’s time to work, you work. They both always say they got more at-bats than they thought they were going to get. That’s always a good thing. I want them to come out with a healthy respect for it but not like, ‘Oh, my God. I can’t do this.’ They all talk about the game is a little faster.”
Asher optioned to Norfolk
Asher — whose 2017 season included a strong early-season stint in the bullpen, had a rocky test run in the rotation and ended with a stint in Double-A — will go to Norfolk attempting to separate himself from a pitching roster crunch at the Triple-A level. Since he has a minor league option this season, he can be on the team’s shuttle between Baltimore and the majors when additional bullpen or spot-starting help is needed
Asher allowed two earned runs over six innings, posting a 3.00 ERA and holding hitters to a .174 batting average this spring. But he must improve on mediocre Triple-A numbers — he had a 5.25 ERA in 60 innings (six starts) with the Tides — on a projected Opening Day Norfolk staff that will include Asher Wojciechowski, Jayson Aquino, David Hess, Yefry Ramirez and Michael Kelly.
Trumbo to return Wednesday
Designated hitter-outfielder Mark Trumbo is scheduled to return to Grapefruit League play in Wednesday’s home game against the New York Yankees, Showalter said.
Trumbo, who has been sidelined the past week with a right quadriceps injury, last played March 6. He was 3-for-20 with nine strikeouts as he attempts to rebound from a rough 2017 season.
Trumbo’s injury, as well as Chris Davis’ balky right throwing elbow, has enabled the Orioles to better evaluate its first base depth with Trey Mancini, Pedro Álvarez and Danny Valencia playing there.