Ryan Mountcastle’s 25-homer season for Triple-A Norfolk earned him a trip to Camden Yards, though not in the more permanent fashion he’s hoping for in years to come.
Mountcastle, the Orioles’ Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year, was recognized before Saturday’s game against the Seattle Mariners, along with the organization’s other award winners. The 22-year-old also earned International League MVP honors by hitting .312/.344/.527 with 35 doubles.
But with 130 strikeouts against 24 walks, the Orioles kept him in the minor leagues, with the expectation he’ll be added to the 40-man roster this offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.
“Going into the year, I thought I had a good shot at making the team at some point,” Mountcastle said. “It didn’t happen, but I’m moving on to next year and I’m ready to go next year if the opportunity presents itself.
“I feel like I could help this team win some ballgames whenever they need me up here. I’m going to be ready when the opportunity comes.”
At what position that opportunity comes is as much of a question as when. After spending all of 2018 with Double-A Bowie as a third baseman, Mountcastle played first base most of this season along with 26 games in left field, with five assists and no errors as an outfielder.
“It wasn’t too much of a challenge moving to first because I was playing corner infield before, but outfield was a little different,” Mountcastle said. “I started to pick up on some things. I had guys like [Austin] Hays out here making some crazy catches, helping me out with some different stuff in the outfield and [Norfolk hitting coach] Butch Davis, those guys, giving me some extra work out there.”
Elias: Farm system ‘ahead of schedule’
Mountcastle, the Orioles’ No. 5 prospect per Baseball America, is part of a farm system rising up the rankings. The Orioles reached a record eighth in Baseball America’s midseason rankings, spurred by a draft class that included No. 1 overall pick Adley Rutschman boosting the system.
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“I think by all accounts, we had a terrific year in the farm system in the minor leagues, maybe even beyond what I would’ve hoped for,” Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said. “The energy level throughout the year was palpable.
“I think the fact that we got our pitching program off the ground this year and saw the results that we saw right away puts us ahead of schedule, frankly, of where I thought we might be.”
Three Orioles affiliates made the postseason in their respective leagues, with Bowie manager Buck Britton, Low-A Delmarva manager Kyle Moore and Gulf Coast League Orioles manager Alan Mills honored Saturday for their Manager of the Year honors in their leagues. Delmarva pitching coach Justin Ramsey was the recipient of the Cal Ripken Sr. Player Development Award.
Rodriguez still improving
After a year as the headliner of a 90-win Delmarva team, 2018 first-round pick Grayson Rodriguez is looking forward to all-around personal improvement in 2020.
“It’s just something that can always get better,” said Rodriguez, who shared the the Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year award with Michael Baumann. “Off-speed, whether it be the changeup, newly acquired pitch I started throwing this year. Just going and perfecting that, and being able to come out and throw more strikes.”
Although the Shorebirds enjoyed a record-setting year, development was always the primary focus, Moore said, and Rodriguez achieved that in his first full season.
“His command got better,” Moore said. “The guy’s got incredible stuff, but in Low-A, it’s about growing up, learning how to be a professional. I think he learned all that, checked all those boxes.”