photo: Tyler O’Neill (Memphis Redbirds)
By The Cardinal Nation staff
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Link to O’Neill’s player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.
Selected 2017 stats
TCN Scouting Grade: 6, Risk: Medium (click here to review scales)
Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)
Message board community (4): Tyler O’Neill debuted at #4 during the community vote after coming over to the Cardinals mid-season in a trade with Seattle for Marco Gonzales. Oddly, O’Neill received his first vote during the community vote at #4, which is where he finished.
During the vote, I posted first about O’Neill, noting that going into the 2017 season, O’Neill was ranked #38 in the Baseball America top 100, #53 in the Baseball Prospectus top 100, and #36 in the MLB.com top 100. Including the four home runs he hit over the final seven postseason games, he finished with 35 home runs in 2017.
The majority of the debate during the vote centered on O’Neill versus Harrison Bader. Brianpnoonan posted that Bader has 30-HR potential and can stay in centerfield, while O’Neill comes off as more of a Rob Deer-type player. SoonerinNC said that O’Neill swings at too many pitches out of the zone, but we haven’t seen this kind of power since Albert Pujols.
Wiley believes that O’Neill, being 22-years old, has time to cut down on the K’s. Bccran agreed, saying that due to that, he thinks O’Neill has more upside than Bader. I thought it interesting that during the playoffs, the Redbirds had O’Neill in center field once Bader and Sierra got the call-up. – Jeremy Byrd
Derek Shore (4): Even for scouts who haven’t even seen O’Neill – he has one tool that wows the eyes of the professional game.
“(I have not seen him), but I have heard big power bat,” one pro scout said.
O’Neill, 22, was acquired by the Cardinals for lefty Marco Gonzales from the Seattle Mariners near the July 31 trade deadline last summer. Drafted as a high school prospect, the Mariners 2013 third round pick had a steady rise through their system, advancing to Triple-A Tacoma in his third full season of pro ball.
In the Pacific Coast League, O’Neill stock took a slight hit, posting a .244/.328/.479 slash line with 21 doubles, 19 homers, and 56 RBI following a breakout season at Double-A Jacksonville where he hit .293 with 24 home runs and 104 RBI in 130 games.
At the time of the trade, the Cardinals President of Baseball Ops John Mozeliak said O’Neill has the profile of a middle-of-the-order bat with the strength to hit the ball out of the ballpark, fitting a need the organization has long struggled to develop.
After he reported to Memphis, O’Neill appeared in 37 games with the Redbirds, slashing .253/.304/.548 with 12 long balls and 39 RBI in 146 at-bats.
Triple-A skipper Stubby Clapp chimes in on how O’Neill can impact the game with one swing of the bat.
“The ball can leave the park at any point of contact,” Clapp said.
“He makes adjustments, too,” the manager added. “He started to learn to use the opposite side of the field according to the situation when he knows he is not going to get anything (to hit).
“He is starting to become more astute with what is going on – how he is being pitched and who is hitting in front of him and behind him.”
From a scouting perspective, O’Neill is a power-first prospect, who plays with an intense demeanor. Scouts call him a gamer, who is a “workout warrior.” With big arms and muscles in his legs and backside, O’Neill generates plus-plus raw power but a violent swing produces a lot of strikeouts and home runs in bunches.
“That is the biggest part of his game right now,” Clapp said. “When he learns to control that strikeout to walk ratio, he is always going to be a higher strikeout guy because of his powerful swing and what he is able to do with that.
“I think when he is able to control that strike zone and understand the situation a little bit better – he is going to get better pitches to hit or he will walk a little bit more, and he’s going to be more productive on the base paths.
“That is a part of his maturation before he becomes a real good big leaguer.”
That said, part of the steepness in his swing caught up to him at Triple-A, as PCL pitchers exploited the flaw of his bat head not being in the zone long and tendency to chase sliders. O’Neill began to make the adjustments with 11 home runs in a 23-game stretch in late June before a trade to the Cardinals.
O’Neill leverages massive strength with explosive bat speed that produces double-plus power that at times gets him in trouble. Scouts say he limits the swing and miss enough to project as a near average major league hitter, but at his best, he recognizes pitches and can draw a walk.
Despite his physical frame, O’Neill is a terrific athlete, who is an average runner and has the ability to man any of the three outfield positions thanks to an above-average arm. He fits best in right field, though.
“He wasn’t bad,” Clapp said of his defense. “He wasn’t bad at all. I used him in center field, right field, and left. I used him in all three. Obviously, he has got good speed. He is very aggressive. He is not going to let the ball fall at any cost.
“He is going to be decent. I think he could probably get better with his arm action for throwing, but again, that will come with the more reps he gets.”
Here is one scout’s impression of O’Neill and the trade the Cardinals accomplished last summer.
I will gladly take O’Neill off their hands,” the scout said. “He is a really good looking player. They are in an enviable situation. That was a bad trade for Seattle, I believe. It’s one that is going to backfire on them if O’Neill stays healthy.
“O’Neill is a lot like (Randal) Grichuk when they got him. He’s a future above-average player (for me).”
Another scout said O’Neill is a well-rounded prospect and with any luck could be a power hitting left fielder or at minimum an extra outfielder.
O’Neill projects to be a middle-of-the-order masher the Cardinals have sought since the late Oscar Taveras and Albert Pujols, but at the expense of a low average and high strikeouts similar to Khris Davis.
As he opens 2018, O’Neill should return to Memphis and could be ready to make his big league debut before season’s end.
Brian Walton (9): Let me start by saying that I really liked the trade that made O’Neill a Cardinal. I think the Cards sold high, dealing a lefty who may have never made St. Louis’ rotation (and may not in Seattle, either) in Marco Gonzales for a 22-year old who had been a nationally-ranked power prospect a half-season earlier. In the Double-A Southern League in 2016, O’Neill had won just about every award in sight.
Still, it is pretty clear that I am less bullish on O’Neill than our other voters. However, while there are clearly areas in which the outfielder needs to improve, so does every player on this top 50 list. My #9 ranking for O’Neill has as much to do with the other prospects at the top of the Cardinals player development pyramid.
I had four pitchers ahead of him – Reyes, Flaherty, Alcantara and Hudson – as well as position players Kelly and Delvin Perez (with the latter ranking perhaps controversial with some), plus two outfielders, which is where there could be a real debate.
Specifically, among the Cardinals’ big three outfield prospects, I felt Magneuris Sierra had the greatest upside potential as a leadoff man and center fielder with plus defensive skills. In my assessment, Harrison Bader and O’Neill have been very close since the day the latter became a Cardinal. The former received my slight edge because of his defensive prowess, as I cannot greatly differentiate the offensive production potential between the two.
At this point, while I can see a longer runway ahead for both Bader and O’Neill compared to Randal Grichuk, for example, I am unsure at this time if any of them will be a long-term outfield starter in the major leagues.
In the above write-up, you can experience the wide spectrum of thinking about O’Neill first hand. One evaluation has him in the middle of St. Louis’ future batting order – the next in the Albert Pujols-Oscar Taveras line – a pretty heady neighborhood.
Ok, fine, he went on to be more realistic, perhaps, saying the low batting average and high strikeouts may make Khris Davis a better comp for O’Neill. Given the Oakland star is currently coming off two consecutive seasons of over 40 home runs and 100 RBI with a batting average in the .250 range, who wouldn’t be thrilled with that kind of production?
However, another talent evaluator says – in what appears to have been intended as a positive take – that O’Neill looks like Grichuk. That apparently overlooks the fact that Grichuk has never mastered his plate discipline issues and after 1,400 plate appearances with St. Louis, seems destined to be a reserve.
That scout is far from the first or last to draw the O’Neill-Grichuk comparison. Here are their respective Double-A and Triple-A results, so you can decide for yourself.
O’Neill had a superb year at Double-A, but fell back at Triple-A. Grichuk improved between the two levels to the point their Triple-A slash lines are close. While O’Neill drew more walks, Grichuk had more hits.
Now, look at those strikeout percentages. Grichuk added 5% when stepping up a level of competition, with O’Neill still 4-5% higher than him at Triple-A, vs. 7-8% higher at Double-A. (Note: This section has been updated with a corrected Triple-A strikeout rate for O’Neill.)
When Grichuk joined St. Louis, his K rate swelled another 7% to 29.9%. You don’t need me to do the quick math to see what that kind of increase would to do O’Neill.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. While the minor league data tends to support the Grichuk-O’Neill comp, there is one very notable exception. O’Neill is almost four years younger. That is huge.
Even if you prefer to use minor league option years rather than age as your measure of the length of the runway, O’Neill has a major advantage – he was placed on the 40-man roster just last month. That means he would not have to stick for good on a major league roster until the spring of 2021.
In other words, a lot of potential development time remains. Maybe by the time Marcell Ozuna becomes a free agent, following the 2019 season, we will know if O’Neill is truly ready and able to take over as the middle of the lineup contributor some expect he can become.
O’Neill’s initial Scouting Grade here comes in at an optimistic “6 Medium”, with a ceiling of an above-average major league starter.
In my estimation, what is needed most for O’Neill in the foreseeable future is to play every day in Triple-A and get better, not sit on the bench in St. Louis. Without further trades, this seems to be the plan to open 2018.
Our 2018 top 50 series continues
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