BALTIMORE — Ryan Mountcastle and Chris Davis were two ships passing in the night for the Orioles on Friday.
One brings hope for better days ahead, especially with Baltimore’s surprising start being flattened by a six-game losing streak this week. The other is the last remnant of a previous era with some fond memories — twice leading the majors in home runs and hitting nearly 200 in a five-year period — impossible to appreciate given his current playing form and salary.
OK, it isn’t perfectly poetic with Mountcastle expected to receive most of his playing time in left field rather than Davis’ old spot at first base. And Davis remains in the organization after being placed on the 10-day injured list with what the Orioles are calling “left knee patellar tendinitis.”
Manager Brandon Hyde said all the right things about the 34-year-old Davis dealing with soreness over the last few days, but that doesn’t cover the last three years or how badly this saga needs to end, regardless of when the Angelos family gets around to accepting the sunk cost of one of the worst contracts in major league history. We know the excruciating truth, and there’s no sense dwelling on the miserable numbers, a hopeless Statcast profile, or the meaningless sample of 2020 Grapefruit League at-bats any longer.
The relevant story was Mountcastle, 23, making his major league debut and going 0-for-2 with two walks in Friday’s 8-5 loss to Boston. After 553 plate appearances and winning the International League MVP for Triple-A Norfolk last year, Mountcastle had nothing left to accomplish at the alternate training site at Bowie where the Orioles wanted him to continue learning how to play left field and to improve his plate discipline. Of course, there was also the matter of preserving another year of service time for someone who clubbed 217 extra-base hits over parts of five minor league seasons since being selected with the 36th overall pick of the 2015 amateur draft out of high school.
Let’s be honest. We’re all crying. pic.twitter.com/r0MpMH2N6R
— Baltimore Orioles 😷 (@Orioles) August 21, 2020
Drafted as a shortstop before shifting to third base and then first, Mountcastle said he feels “more comfortable” in the outfield and is confident he can be “serviceable” in left field, a reasonable aspiration given his lack of experience there. The organization’s No. 5 prospect on MLB Pipeline’s top 30 list also believes he’s improved his plate discipline after drawing just 24 walks compared to 130 strikeouts for the Tides last season, a potential red flag in a season that otherwise consisted of 61 extra-base hits.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Mountcastle is far from a “can’t-miss” prospect, but it’s time for general manager Mike Elias and Hyde to begin seeing how he fares in the majors. And he drew two free passes in his first major league game after all.
“Half of the battle is to feel like you belong here, and I think he feels that way,” said Hyde, who confirmed Mountcastle could still see some time at first base. “But I just want him to play his game and be a part of the team and not feel like he needs to carry any load, but just take four good at-bats a night. We’ll continue to work on his defense, and [he’ll] just be part of our lineup and part of the team.”
Whether Mountcastle shines or struggles in his early major league action isn’t as important as it being a reminder of what’s still to come. The 2020 season has been encouraging for former castoffs such as Anthony Santander, Hanser Alberto, Pedro Severino, and Renato Nunez trying to prove they belong for the long haul, but we know the most promising organizational talent remains down below despite the canceled minor league season.
Mountcastle got an extended look at some of the Orioles’ top pitching prospects working out in Bowie this summer.
“I’m not going to lie, there are some dudes down there,” said Mountcastle, citing the baseball lingo for an exciting prospect. “You know DL Hall, Grayson [Rodriguez], all these young guys, Michael Baumann. All these guys are throwing really well down there. There wasn’t one at-bat I had where I was like, ‘This guy, I’m going to crush this one.’ It was a bunch of uncomfortable at-bats, and it was a good time, good competition.”
Nights like Friday matter much more than the rebuilding Orioles now falling below the .500 mark and out of playoff position in this incredibly weird 2020. In a season in which major-league-ready talents such as Austin Hays, Hunter Harvey, and John Means have struggled to stay on the field or perform at a high level when they’ve been out there, Mountcastle stepping to the plate at Camden Yards — even an empty one — was a breath of fresh air.
It was enough to make Orioles fans daydream about the many more to come.
“There will be others down the road,” Hyde said. “It’s an exciting time for our organization — somebody that got drafted high here a few years back that did well in the minor leagues and got to the big leagues. I think a lot of people have been reading about him, and now they get to watch him play.”
That sure beats the alternative of the same old disappointment.