The memory sticks out clearly to Keegan Akin, because he’s never seen anything quite like it again. He was a pitching prospect for the Frederick Keys in 2017, then the Orioles’ High-A affiliate, and this kid named Ryan Mountcastle did something Akin believes only because he saw it with his own eyes.

There’s a short wall, then a tall wall, then a scoreboard several yards beyond both at Harry Grove Stadium.

And Mountcastle, who had only recently turned 20, slugged a home run over all three structures.

“I don’t think I could hit it over the scoreboard with a fungo if I was standing in the outfield,” said Akin, a left-hander who has watched Mountcastle’s development for as long as anyone in the organization. “It was one of those where he hits it and you’re like, ‘Did that really go as far as I thought it went?’”

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There was never any question about Mountcastle’s bat. The Orioles selected him in the first round of the 2015 draft because of it, and every step of the way Mountcastle has proven that assessment correct.

An ongoing question for many of those steps, however, was where Mountcastle would play when he left his bat on the rack and picked up a glove.

“Being a bigger kid with a really, really good bat, they’re going to find somewhere for you to play,” Akin said. “They might try all nine positions before it, but they’re going to try.”

They wound up trying four.

Mountcastle was drafted as a shortstop, and when he blasted the homer Akin remembers, that’s where Mountcastle played. But, over the next several years, shortstop shifted into third base. Then, two years later at Triple-A Norfolk, Mountcastle added two more gloves to his collection when he began playing left field and first base.

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The journey around the diamond stopped there. Mountcastle has established himself at first base, finding a home on the field to ensure his bat can be in the lineup each night. Not long ago, Mountcastle wondered where he might stick. And now, as All-Star voting continues into Phase 2, Mountcastle is considered one of the best first basemen in the American League.

Baltimore Orioles first base Ryan Mountcastle (6) waits on deck in the third game of a series against the Texas Rangers at Camden Yards on June 29, 2024.
Mountcastle has 11 home runs, 40 RBIs and a .776 OPS this season. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

The context around Mountcastle’s rise at this position isn’t lost on him. Yes, much of it has to do with Mountcastle’s batting. But to be an All-Star finalist as a first baseman? All the effort to become a strong fielder at an unfamiliar position was worth it.

“I always thought I got a little bit of flak for my defense, and I don’t want to say I’ve worked harder than anybody else, but it feels like I’ve done so much work over there at first base to become — at least in my mind — competent over there,” Mountcastle said. “I’ve always had that confidence in myself to hit the ball, and to finally feel confident on the field and feel like I help the team out in the field is really cool, just for all the work I’ve put in.”

Mountcastle earned the most votes among American League first basemen in Phase 1, but he will now compete with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays for the honor to start the Midsummer Classic at first base.

When Mountcastle played at Paul J. Hagerty High School in Florida, he was the star shortstop. Even when he arrived in the minors, the still-growing Mountcastle played shortstop until he reached High-A Frederick.

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“In high school, I thought I was a good shortstop,” Mountcastle said. “Seeing how good these guys really are, this top 1% of shortstops, it’s a different game.”

He came around to the idea shortstop wouldn’t be in his future, and he soon learned third base wasn’t the solution, either. But the skills developed as a left-sided infielder have translated to his defensive work at first base.

Baltimore Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle (6) high fives teammates in the dugout after scoring in the second game of a series against the Cleveland Guardians at Camden Yards on June 25, 2024.
Ryan Mountcastle receives high-fives after scoring a run against the Guardians last week. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

By 2022, two years after his major league debut, Mountcastle had gained clarity. No more would he split time between the outfield and first base. His future rested on the right side of the infield.

Ever since, Mountcastle has morphed into an above-average fielder there. He said his confidence at first base grew in 2022 — “When I put my main focus on first base, I felt like I got a lot better,” he said — and Fielding Bible rates that growth through defensive runs saved: one in 2022, two in 2023 and four so far in 2024.

“He’s always been that .800-plus OPS guy. That’s who he is. He’s a power hitter. He drives the baseball,” outfielder Austin Hays said. “But the biggest change I’ve seen with him is his ability to play defense. And he’s saving us a lot of games and saving a lot of runs at first base.”

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Added co-hitting coach Ryan Fuller: “I think all these guys yearn for the comfort of knowing the position they’re going to play and really sink their teeth into their daily work and not worry about bouncing around. … For Mounty, he’s zeroed in on being one of the best first basemen in the league.”

In recent seasons, Mountcastle has learned more about how to take care of his body to ensure he’s on the field most days — although he missed Sunday’s game because he wasn’t feeling well, manager Brandon Hyde said.

Mountcastle said he’s added more regimented massage treatments, weightlifting and hot and cold tub sessions.

“When I was young, I could wake up, go in the cage and take 100% swings and feel perfectly fine,” Mountcastle said, before adding dryly: “Don’t want to say I’m getting old or anything.”

Baltimore Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle (6) connects with a pitch during the second game of a series against the Cleveland Guardians at Camden Yards on June 25, 2024. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Well, he’s getting older. On a team with stars such as 23-year-old Gunnar Henderson, the 27-year-old Mountcastle is a relative veteran playing his fifth season in the majors. His performances now, however, show everything is coming together.

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It’s not a position Mountcastle would’ve envisioned himself playing as a 20-year-old shortstop for the Frederick Keys, when he showed off that bat with a home run over both walls and the scoreboard.

“When we first started, I think he just wanted to go hit and step foot in the box,” Akin said. “But then he figured out, with his age and his talent, you’re going to have to find a spot in the field to play.”

And with an All-Star appearance likely, first base is home.