SARASOTA, Fla. — It’s certainly not a divisive enough issue to cause a rift in the Orioles’ clubhouse, though there are two firm camps — the younger guys and the older guys.

The question: to which group does Ryan Mountcastle belong?

The first baseman turned 27 a few weeks ago. He’s been in the organization for nearly a decade, has enough major league service time to qualify for salary arbitration and rates as one of the club’s most experienced hitters. Yet he’s only a year and a few days older than Adley Rutschman, who was considered the vanguard of the Orioles’ young wave of stars that is meant to deliver the team its next championship — and is also one of Mountcastle’s spring training housemates along with undisputed younger guys Kyle Stowers, Colton Cowser and Gunnar Henderson.

The dividing line between the two sides serves as a mirror. The younger players and older players in the Orioles’ clubhouse broadly consider him one of their own. We live in a polarized world. Some, however, called him a hybrid. Perhaps that’s what makes Mountcastle one of the most important figures in the clubhouse as the Orioles get younger and younger.

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Baltimore Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle (6) connects with a pitch during a Grapefruit League game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at LECOM Park on February 25, 2024. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

“It’s one of those things that kind of goes unnoticed, how he’s able to keep the team together in his own fashion,” Cedric Mullins said.

Added Tyler Nevin: “I think the value is just showing that he’s representative of this organization — bringing that youthful presence but also being here every day and leading by example as well at the major league level.”

A Dan Duquette-era holdover, Mountcastle was drafted in 2015 out of high school and became a top prospect in the organization before he debuted in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Before that call-up, he was at the team’s alternate training site in Bowie biding his time, overlapping with players who are firmly considered part of the team’s veteran core — Mullins and Austin Hays — and first-year pros Henderson and Rutschman alike.

He’s spent the four seasons since his debut solidifying himself as a middle-of-the-order hitter and quality defensive first baseman. He’s been an above-average major league hitter in each of his four seasons and hit 30 home runs as a rookie in 2021. By earning over three years of service time, he made it to arbitration — a milestone for players who to that point make the league minimum — and will earn $4.1 million this year.

That’s not the domain of a young player — at least to those who consider him older.

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Baltimore Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle, left, smiles in front of catcher Adley Rutschman as he returns to the dugout during spring training batting practice at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Florida on Monday, February 19, 2024.
Baltimore Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle, left, smiles in front of catcher Adley Rutschman as he returns to the dugout during spring training batting practice at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Florida on Monday, February 19, 2024. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Keegan Akin offered that Mountcastle “acts like a child,” but as an arbitration-eligible player who is one of just nine drafted by the previous regime who is still around, “he’s got to be an old guy,” Akin said.

Mullins, who was drafted with Mountcastle in 2015 and at age 29 is old only in the context of this conversation, places that same distinction on Mountcastle.

“He’s old now,” Mullins said. “I definitely consider him somebody that guys can look up to at this point.”

Ryan McKenna, who is four days older than Mountcastle, couldn’t consider it an age question as much as experience. He considers Mountcastle a veteran, but not himself, and has seen across the minors and now in the majors how valuable it is to have Mountcastle “keeping it light and keeping it fun.”

The only crossover from the younger side was Rutschman, who asked for clarification — “Are you talking in terms of maturity?” he wondered — then took the easy way out.

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“Older guy,” Rutschman said. “He’s older than me, so that’s my safe answer.”

Baltimore Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman (35) and first baseman Ryan Mountcastle (6) collide as Mountcastle catches a pop fly in a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers at Camden Yards on Friday, April 21. The Orioles beat the Tigers, 2-1, on their way to sweeping the series. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Others in that spring training house acknowledge Mountcastle’s experience but consider him a younger guy, just like he is. Cowser called Mountcastle a hybrid, young enough to be relatable to the new wave of Orioles young talent and tenured enough to have wisdom and experience to impart.

Henderson, 22, said that just because he’s one of the older players on the team doesn’t mean Mountcastle can’t be considered, broadly, a younger guy.

Added Stowers: “I’ve spent a lot more time with him the last couple of years. He’s a real person, is light, has fun — and is a really good baseball player. It’s a good combo.”

Mountcastle’s nature has been apparent to Mullins since they played together in Aberdeen in 2015, with Mountcastle’s sheepish smirk after hitting a home run early in his time there evidence enough that Mountcastle has “been goofy since Day One.”

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Perhaps by chance, his nature became invaluable to an Orioles clubhouse that began getting younger and younger just as Mountcastle solidified himself in the majors. The club’s veteran outfielders — Hays, Mullins and Anthony Santander — have charted the course and led by example. Mountcastle was noted by several teammates as a bridge between the rebuild survivors and the products of the high draft picks who came as a reward for all that losing. When he shows up to the ballpark in matching track suits with them, it’s hard to consider him anything but their peer.

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“Mounty is extremely personable, so I think guys feel extremely comfortable talking to him and going to him with stuff,” Rutschman said. “That’s a quality that’s not easy to find in people, and he has it. He’s just a great teammate to be around, definitely a guy that you can trust. … I guess I kind of got to see it my rookie year, more so last year as the year goes along. It’s something that takes a little time, but once you see it, you see it.”

Mountcastle himself said, while he’s had great teammates at every point in his career, he remembers even in a welcoming clubhouse that he was “super nervous” around experienced players in spring training and similar environments.

He acknowledges it’s weird to be in between camps, sometimes listed with the Hays/Mullins/Santander trio as a veteran player and other times not, and he draws no such distinctions within a clubhouse where he wants everyone to be comfortable.

And yet, as he surveys a clubhouse he is credited with keeping the tight-knit one it is, Mountcastle leans back in his chair in a way that indicates which camp he ultimately places himself in.

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“I look around,” he said thoughtfully, “and I feel like an older guy on this team. I may not act like it — but I feel like an older guy.”

Baltimore Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle rides the cart over to the main field during the team’s spring training session at Ed Smith Stadium on February 23, 2024. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Jon Meoli is the Baltimore Banner's Orioles columnist and head women's ice hockey coach at Loyola University Maryland.

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