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Orioles' Mountcastle arrives at first big league camp early focusing on defensive fundamentals

Orioles prospect Ryan Mountcastle works on shortstop positioning drills with major league infield coach Bobby Dickerson and minor league infield coordinator Dave Anderson on the back field of the Ed Smith Stadium complex on Friday afternoon.
Orioles prospect Ryan Mountcastle works on shortstop positioning drills with major league infield coach Bobby Dickerson and minor league infield coordinator Dave Anderson on the back field of the Ed Smith Stadium complex on Friday afternoon. (Eduardo A. Encina/Baltimore Sun)

SARASOTA, FLA. — With three days still remaining until the Orioles’ first full-squad spring training workout, prospect Ryan Mountcastle worked in isolation Friday afternoon with third base coach Bobby Dickerson and minor league infield coordinator Dave Anderson on one of the back fields at the Ed Smith Stadium complex.

There’s little question within the Orioles organization that Mountcastle’s bat will eventually play in the big leagues, but finding a position for him at the major league level is a bigger challenge. Mountcastle, 20, was drafted as a shortstop and played there for his first 2½ professional seasons, but transitioned to third base last year in mid-July when he was promoted to Double-A Bowie from High-A Frederick.

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On Friday, he was positioned at shortstop, with Dickerson and Anderson preaching to him the importance of playing the proper angles when fielding a ball — drills that are mostly based on footwork — to help his arm play better in making throws from the left side of the infield.

Mountcastle practiced patiently playing back on grounders instead of charging them, something former Orioles Gold Glove shortstop J.J. Hardy would do with precision. It’s a steady, almost methodical way to play the position, but one that consistently resulted in turning batted balls into outs.

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There is some debate abouy where Mountcastle will end up — whether its third or shortstop, or perhaps left field or first base. But the Orioles have been determined to exhaust every opportunity to give Mountcastle a shot at staying on the left side of the infield.

Mountcastle’s arriving at camp early to get individual instruction on infield defense should indicate he’s determined to stay there as well. But the fact that he took balls at shortstop Friday isn’t necessarily an indication he’s returning to his original position, but it is worth noting.

Mountcastle made 21 errors in 105 games at shortstop in 2016, and 13 in 82 games at shortstop last season. But those numbers don’t necessarily tell the full story because they don’t account for the balls he couldn’t get to.

This will be an important spring for Mountcastle. The organization deliberated about whether to invite him to his first big league camp or to allow him to come over from minor league camp to play in Grapefruit League games.

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The fact that he received an invitation suggests he’s closer to the majors, but also places value on him getting instruction from the big league staff. And the team expects that any extended time he gets to work with Dickerson and Anderson this spring will help Mountcastle by leaps and bounds.

But he will find quickly that the pace of playing defense in big league camp will be much faster than at minor league camp, so in that way he will have to learn to adapt quickly.

Also in big league camp, every mistake gets more magnified because there are more major league coaches, evaluators and reporters to scrutinize. It’s much different than the atmosphere across town at minor league camp at Twin Lakes Park.

Even though he set career highs in almost every offensive category and won the Carolina League batting title, his invitation to major league camp was little bit of a surprise. But maybe that’s why Mountcastle is at the Ed Smith Stadium complex — so the Orioles can see how he reacts to that spotlight. Maybe he will benefit from it.

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