It was announced after Sunday’s loss to the Braves that the St. Louis Cardinals would be calling up Tyler O’Neill with Dexter Fowler going on paternity leave. O’Neill has been crushing the ball lately with the Memphis Redbirds as he’s hit four home runs in his past five games. Between the way O’Neill is currently hitting and the overall production that the Cardinals have gotten from right field this season, this could be a golden opportunity for O’Neill.
Production from right field is something that has eluded the Cardinals for the entire season. So far their right fielders have combined for a slash line of just .202/.283/.349 with a .280 wOBA and 75 wRC+. A 75 wRC+ ranks 26th among RF production for all MLB teams. This is a serious issue, and that’s putting it lightly. The league average wRC+ from right field is 106. This is a position that teams need offense from and the Cardinals are clearly not getting it.
As if the season long numbers weren’t bad enough, they have been even worse recently. In the month of June, St. Louis right fielders hit just .186/.239/.255 with a .222 wOBA and 36 wRC+. That’s the worst in all of major league baseball in the month of June.
It’s no secret that Dexter Fowler is having a bad year. With just a .171/.276/.278 line on the season, he has lost much of his playing time. Things aren’t trending up either as he has just a .195 wOBA in the month of June. On top of all of this, he plays what might be the worst defensive right field in baseball. Simply put, it’s been ugly. There really aren’t any easy answers here because it will be difficult for Fowler to pull out of a slump if he’s not getting at-bats. But at the same time, it’s now July. They can’t continue to run a player out there that isn’t producing. We’ve seen Harrison Bader cutting into his playing time more and more as the season has gone on. Unfortunately, Bader seems to have hit a skid as well.
Bader was all the buzz early in the season with his sparkling defense and impressive hustle on the field. He’s an easy player to root for. His offensive numbers for the season still look pretty solid as well. He’s hitting .261/.330/.388, good for a .314 wOBA and 98 wRC+. With the defense he brings to the table, those numbers will play. The issue is that many believe that Bader profiles better as a 4th outfielder. What we’re seeing is perhaps the Greg Garcia effect. He’s a very productive player off of the bench with some starts here and there, but when faced with everyday playing time, he gets overexposed. Bader had more plate appearances in the month of June than any other month this season and we saw his numbers suffer. He hit just .235/.297/.279. With such an inconsistent offense, the Cardinals need to look to right field as a way to improve.
Enter Tyler O’Neill
At this point you probably know about Tyler O’Neill. If not, he’s the guy that’s built like a comic book super hero. He’s had a couple brief stints with the big league club this season that were filled with ups and downs. There wasn’t much playing time during his first stint in April as he started just one game and the rest of his at-bats were limited to pinch hit appearances. He failed to collect a hit in his 9 plate appearances. However, he did find some success during his second stint with the Cardinals as he hit a home run in three straight games. After that, the league soon caught up with him as his strikeout rate soared. He struck out in 13 of his final 19 plate appearances before being sent back to Memphis.
The strikeout rate was a bit discouraging but since being sent back down O’Neill has continued to hit. His first game back in Memphis was on June 1st, which is convenient for looking at his statistics. Since that demotion he’s hit .275/.407/.551 with 5 home runs. That’s a nice combination of power and on base ability. His walk rate has been an impressive 17.4% in that time. Overall, O’Neill has 21 home runs on the season between the majors and minors. This is just a long way of saying that he really has nothing else to prove in the minor leagues. It’s time to get him up here and see what he can do.
Unfortunately, O’Neill may only have three games to make another impression before Fowler is back from paternity leave. It’s on Matheny to play him all three games as he searches for an answer in right field.
This could be a golden opportunity for O’Neill to take the right field job and run with it. It would be the simplest path for the Cardinals to find production from that position. If it’s not O’Neill, I believe they will have to go outside of the organization in order to find someone. With the trade deadline just under a month away, it’s time to find out what they already have inside the organization.
Thanks for reading!