Minutes before his major league debut Friday, Ryan Mountcastle was the first player to trot out of the Orioles’ dugout at Camden Yards. He stopped suddenly, far from his destination of left field, when he realized none of his teammates had joined him, a quick prank beginning his career.
In some ways, the moment of levity mirrored Mountcastle’s standing on the Orioles major league roster. The spotlight is his for now, but he’s well aware there will soon be others coming behind him.
As he spent the season’s first month at the team’s alternate training site in Bowie, Mountcastle, a top-five prospect in the Orioles’ system, shared time there with nine of Baltimore’s other top 12 prospects, according to Baseball America. The only exceptions were the recent draftees who weren’t added to the team’s player pool. He took at-bats against low-minors prodigies Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall, plus fast-rising prospect Michael Baumann, getting a firsthand look at a bright future that his arrival made feel closer to the present.
“There are some dudes down there,” Mountcastle said before his debut. “It was a bunch of uncomfortable at-bats.”
Mountcastle held his own, of course. Left-hander Keegan Akin, the only other homegrown prospect to debut for the Orioles this year, noted during his brief promotion that Mountcastle took him deep during one of their matchups as he flashed improved plate discipline en route to Baltimore. Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said Saturday that Mountcastle “walked a lot more than he struck out” while at the Bowie site.
That replicated itself in Mountcastle’s first major league plate appearance, as he fell behind 1-2 and ended up walking. After striking out and flying out in his next two at-bats, he worked an eight-pitch walk in the eighth, extending the inning and allowing Chance Sisco to hit a three-run home run that halved the Orioles’ deficit in what ended as an 8-5 loss to the Boston Red Sox. It was the Orioles’ sixth straight defeat.
Although Friday marked his first official game action of the season, Mountcastle managed to get plenty of at-bats in Bowie, with far more pitchers than position players at the camp. Among the former are Hall and Rodriguez, the Orioles’ first-round picks in 2017 and 2018, respectively. In 2019, Baumann was an all-star for High-A Frederick and threw a no-hitter for Double-A Bowie shortly after his promotion.
Dean Kremer, Bruce Zimmermann and the mending Hunter Harvey are also working at the Orioles’ alternate site, providing Mountcastle and the other position players at Bowie, including top prospects Adley Rutschman, Yusniel Díaz and Gunnar Henderson, the chance to face pitching that is either major league ready or close to it.
Elias said Saturday that any player who spent “a good chunk” of 2019 at Double-A or higher could potentially be called up.
“Any of the guys that are at Bowie right now that are upper-level, Double-A, Triple-A guys, they all have a chance of getting called up this year, just depending on circumstances and the roster and maybe how the trade deadline goes,” Elias said. “I think any of those guys that played in Bowie last year or played a good chunk in Bowie last year or higher need to be ready.”
Given his presence on the 40-man roster, Kremer is the likeliest of that collection to join Mountcastle and Akin in making their debuts in 2020, with Elias saying the product of the Manny Machado trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers is “knocking on the door.” Díaz, also part of the Machado deal, is “really close” to being major league ready, Elias said, but his absence from the 40-man roster could affect a potential call-up, a situation that might also hamper Zimmermann, Isaac Mattson and other hopeful of making their debuts.
Other prospects, including the organization’s past three first-round picks in Rutschman, Rodriguez and Hall, have yet to play above A-ball and are at the alternate site primarily to participate in team-controlled workouts as part of their development. But their time will come, too.
Last year, when Harvey made his long-awaited debut after being drafted in 2014′s first round, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde compared it to his early years as a coach in the Cubs’ dugout and watching prospects such as Kris Bryant, Javier Báez and Jorge Soler reach the majors. Their promise culminated in a World Series title in 2016.
Days such as Friday, with Mountcastle taking the field at Camden Yards and others eventually bound to follow, offer glimpses of a similar path in Baltimore, Hyde said.
“It’s exciting to watch guys make their debuts,” Hyde said Friday. “It’s exciting to see guys that we feel like can be a part of the future arrive. I was a part of a lot of debuts in Chicago and the excitement with a lot of those guys finally getting there, really talented guys, and watching them progress in the big leagues over the next four years there. I think it’s the same here.
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“Harvey made his debut last year. Ryan’s making it tonight. There will be others down the road. It’s an exciting time for our organization.”