On Friday July 21st the Cardinals traded LHP Marco Gonzales to the Seattle Mariners for Power hitter and Top 100 outfielder Tyler O’Neill. It was a great move for the Cardinals, for many different reasons, for which I hope to have time to talk about in the near future. But one step at a time. We have a new member of our Top 30 prospect list. And, with that, I give you:
#7. Outfielder Tyler O’ Neill: Age 22 – Traded For Marco Gonzales & Drafted in Round 3, 2013
2017 Stats: 93 Games, 349 AB, 85 H, 21 Doubles, 2 Triples, 19 HR, 56 RBI, 9 SB, 2 CS, 44 BB, 108 SO, 244/328/479/807. 167 Total Bases
This is a BIG trade for me. Tyler O’Neill has been one of my favorite non-Cardinal related prospects to follow. O’Neill has possessed the swagger and hype of a big time prospect since the moment he was drafted, but my interest in him was piqued during his 2016 turn in the Arizona Fall League.
As you probably know, the Arizona Fall League is considered to be “Finishing School” for baseball’s top prospects. The AFL is the Fall League that teams send their best prospects too in an effort to gauge their success against the best prospects of their opponents. Often, prospects get exposed as frauds during this test. It couldn’t have worked out any differently for O’Neill in 2016(his second turn in the Fall League which is incredible for such a young and inexperienced player). There, he slashed an impressive 292/395/486/807 with 3 HR, 5 doubles, 12 walks, and 22 strikeouts in 72 AFL at-bats. The strikeouts are high, the walks are high, and the power was there. I believe that this stat line extrapolated over an entire season is the absolute peak of potential for O’Neill.
The bottom line with Tyler O’Neill is simple: POWER. It’s what I’m sure you’ve read about and heard about at this point. It’s plus, but has the potential to be plus plus with experience and seasoning. But let me tell you what I like best about O’Neill: he’s a “baseball I.Q” guy. He isn’t fast, but he knows how to run the bases. He doesn’t cover a ton of ground in the outfield, but he takes great routes to balls and does everything that he can to put himself in a position to make a play. Unlike many of the players on the major league roster, you can count on O’Neill to make the correct decision on the base paths and in the outfield on the regular.
That being said, I view O’Neill as an average runner at best and he is best suited for the left field corner of the outfield. That diminishes his value a tiny bit, but not enough for it to matter if he rakes the way that he is capable of raking. At the plate, O’Neill is plenty strikeout-prone. I don’t imagine a time when it goes away, either. There is A LOT of upper cut in that swing. I love that baseball players have refocused their hitting efforts to create more fly balls, but O’Neill’s swing is more his natural path than it is a product of approach. Since he is always going to strike out, you have to worry about his chances against major league caliber pitching. The biggest holes in his swing come on low and inside fastballs, while he often gets ahead of really good change ups and breaking pitches.
Like I mentioned, O’Neill possesses real, plus power. And his smarts cannot be understated. He struggled to start the season, but if you expected anything less from a 21 year old (He’s only been 22 for a month) playing in Triple-A with a power swing and K-potential then you evaluate poorly. Also, try to remember when evaluating his early struggles that most bats from the Mariners system are cursed, so there’s that. Ask poor Alex Jackson.
I’m sure you’ve read this part by now, but over O’Neill’s last 24 games he’s hit 13 home runs while slashing 326/413/779/1.192. His career as a Mariner’s prospect came to end with a two-homer game on Thursday night. Gotta love that. His K rate is a staggering 30.9% which won’t work in any capacity, but he has shown the ability to cut that number down. In 2015 his K rate was about 30% and he cut that number down to 26% during the 2016 season. With a little adjustment and seasoning I think he can get that number down to the 24-26% range. That’s still a lot of strike outs, but it’s more palatable, and realistic, when you factor in the kind of power that he possesses.
O’Neill flirted with the Triple Crown in Double-A and was the MVP of the Double-A Southern League during the 2016 season. He placed on nearly every Top 100 list entering the season. He was Baseball America’s 38th ranked prospect, MLB.com’s 36th ranked prospects, and Baseball Prospectus’ 53rd best prospect. Most of these outlets will be reranking their prospects after the trade deadline and I expect O’Neill to fall towards the back fourth or fifth of the list.
This was a great trade for the Cardinals. Yes, the Cardinals have a ton of high-upside outfielders, but none with the upside of O’Neill. He is the middle of the order bat that the Cardinals organization did not possess yesterday. Much like Randal Grichuk and Paul DeJong, Tyler O’Neill is always going to strike out, but unlike those two he is going to take plenty of walks along the way, which makes his bat more valuable than the both of them.
I would have placed O’Neill higher on the list, sayyyyyy 5th, if not for the high volatility that comes with a player that strikes out as much as he does and because he is an average corner outfielder at best. If I was ranking the prospects solely on potential then O’Neill would be third behind Alex Reyes and Delvin Perez. Also, I put him behind Harrison Bader because Bader is going to be fine in CF for at least a little bit and I think his bat is more polished than O’Neill’s. That’s to be expected for the collegiate-star Bader as compared to the prep-star O’Neill.
Discard whatever happens with O’Neill from now until the end of the season. It’s either going to be deflated or inflated. Wait to see what he does at Triple-A next season when he’s a little older, wiser, and more physically ready for the challenge.
With the ceiling of former MVP Jason Giambi, a floor of perennial DFA candidate Peter O’Brien, and a really good chance that he ends up with a career close to Mark Trumbo‘s, Tyler O’Neill is going to be an important part of the Cardinals future.
Thanks For Reading!