Inbox: Where will prospect Mountcastle play?

Beat reporter Joe Trezza answers Baltimore fans' questions

February 27th, 2019

It’s been a few warm weeks of games and workouts since we last cranked open the Inbox. Now that March is nearly upon us, Opening Day just a few weeks away. What better time to tackle a fresh batch of Orioles questions?

The simple answer is Ryan Mountcastle will play wherever allows him to be in the lineup most often, and that’s why you’re seeing him move around a bit early this spring. The Orioles remain enamored with his offensive upside, even if the new front office and coaching staff knows of it more or less on reputation alone. The bat will get Mountcastle to the big leagues, and the Orioles feel he’s too young and athletic to pigeonhole as a designated hitter just yet.

Still just 22, Mountcastle has famously bounced from short to third already in his career, and few would be surprised if he saw some time in the outfield at some point going forward. He’s now dabbling at first base. Even though Mountcastle is still slated to see the bulk of his playing time at third this season, trying him out on the right side of the infield now would serve the Orioles in several ways.

By giving him a first baseman’s mitt, the Orioles are using a low-stakes environment to expose their No. 2 prospect to a new position and maybe increase his versatility.

They can accomplish this without throwing Mountcastle into the club’s hotly-contested position battles at third base and in the outfield. The Orioles have as many as half a dozen candidates to possibly play third; they also have five full-time outfielders fighting for two spots (plus other utility types in the mix). Adding Mountcastle into this madness would only complicate things further and take at-bats away from him or someone else with a more realistic chance of making the team.

Simply put, the Orioles also just need someone to man first on days Chris Davis isn’t, and if doing so gets Mountcastle some Grapefruit League at-bats, all the better. Davis won’t play every day this spring, and with Mark Trumbo still rehabbing and Trey Mancini in the outfield, the club doesn’t have an obvious backup for him. During the season, they hope to not need one.

I do expect Yusniel Diaz to remain in the Minors, and as much as that may bother fans, it’s understandable. The rules make it so that the Orioles would simply be silly not to, particularly during a year they’re going to spend focusing on development. As for Hunter Harvey, I don’t think there is any set plan yet besides hoping he breaks camp healthy. If he does, building him back up at Double-A makes sense, since he’s only made nine starts at that level.

Davis clarified his intentions on this topic a little bit Tuesday, after repeatedly saying over the winter that he’d enter this season with an open mind toward analytics. He was talking about how he’s trying to “shorten” his swing from last season, and I asked him if that meant diving into any launch angle data. Turns out, it doesn’t.

“I was more referring to defensive alignments, how opposing teams are pitching me specifically,” said Davis. “The launch angle stuff, I feel like you can get really deep when you start talking about launch angle. I’ve always had an uppercut swing. It’s my natural swing. It’s the way I am. ... When I was referring to analytics, I was referring to more defensive alignments and how the opposition is going to attack me.”

Carroll is in camp, wearing No. 49, healthy and throwing hard.

The Orioles have as many as six bullpen spots open, and Carroll is going to get a long look for one of them. But he’ll need to show improved command after really struggling in that category late last year.