BALTIMORE -- While the Orioles finished a disappointing road trip in Cleveland, far more pleasant reports continued to come in from Norfolk, where several of the club’s top prospects are putting together campaigns that warrant attention. None more so than No. 1 prospect Ryan Mountcastle, whose career-high five-RBI performance on
BALTIMORE -- While the Orioles finished a disappointing road trip in Cleveland, far more pleasant reports continued to come in from Norfolk, where several of the club’s top prospects are putting together campaigns that warrant attention. None more so than No. 1 prospect Ryan Mountcastle, whose career-high five-RBI performance on Sunday buoyed what’s been a stellar first taste of the Triple-A level.
The 22-year-old’s offensive success has been plain to see: Mountcastle is hitting .325 with a .872 OPS and 18 extra-base hits in 39 games, and ranks second in the International League in hits, with 52. But maybe as much as with any other blue-chipper in their system, defense remains a point of focus for the Orioles as they assess Mountcastle’s progress in his first season playing first base full-time.
That topic came up again in a recent conversation between Orioles skipper Brandon Hyde and Tides manager Gary Kendall, some two months since the organization began Mountcastle's transition from third base this spring.
“It sounds like he’s playing pretty well,” Hyde said on Monday. “He’s coming along. He’s working really, really hard to take everyday reps over there.”
A shortstop before moving to third exclusively last season, Mountcastle is still getting some exposure at the hot corner and occasionally at-bats as designated hitter. The bulk of his playing time this season, though, is coming at first, where the Orioles see a more long-term fit. Mountcastle committed 67 errors in his first three professional seasons on the left side of the infield, including 16 at the hot corner in 2018.
Although defensive metrics can be murky at times for Minor Leaguers, and Mountcastle’s learning curve includes such soft factors as footwork, positioning and other intangibles, the alarming numbers of the past seem to be trending downward. Mountcastle has committed just three errors over his first 32 games at the position, a span of 275 defensive innings. He’s made three at third base in just five contests.
“I think people think you can throw anybody at first base and he’ll just step on the bag and catch the ball,” Hyde said. “That’s not the case. There is a lot more that goes into it. They’re making progress.”
O's make a move
Needing a fresh arm in place of Sunday’s spot starter, Yefry Ramírez, the Orioles selected right-hander Josh Lucas’ contract from Triple-A Norfolk. It's the second big league stint this season for Lucas, who pitched to a 4.15 ERA over three appearances in April.
The club transferred right-hander Nate Karns (forearm tightness) to the 60-day injured list to clear room on the 40-man roster in what was essentially a paper move. Karns has been inactive since April 9 and is yet to resume throwing despite receiving an injection meant to alleviate his lingering discomfort two weeks ago.
“[Karns] wasn’t going to be back before the 60 [days were up],” Hyde said, “but it shouldn’t be too much longer after that.”
Trumbo takes step forward
More actively on the mend is Mark Trumbo, who Hyde said has begun appearing in extended spring training games. Previously, Trumbo’s rehab from surgery on his right knee had been limited to strengthening and hitting drills, at least since the club choose to break camp with him on the 60-day IL. Trumbo, who is in the final season of a three-year, $37.5 million contract, appeared in six Major League Spring Training games in March.
“Now it’s about getting into baseball shape, getting at-bats, playing some defense,” Hyde said.
After another truncated outing brought Dan Straily’s rotation status into question, the Orioles have come to a decision regarding the veteran right-hander. The club is listing him as its starter for Wednesday against the Yankees, meaning he remains plugged in for at least another turn through.
Straily is 1-3 with a 7.36 ERA in seven starts since joining the rotation in early April, and hasn’t completed more than 4 1/3 innings in any of his past four starts. And although the Orioles have a plethora of young arms performing well in the Minors, their options are limited at the upper levels. Josh Rogers and Luis Ortiz are on the 40-man roster, but both are pitching to plus-6.00 ERAs at Norfolk. Ramirez lasted just 3 1/3 innings in his first start of the year, a 10-0 loss to the Indians on Sunday.
Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.