Updated: Mar 25, 2018
Prospect #4, OF Tyler O'Neill
Age At The Start Of The 2018 Season: 22
Drafted By The Seattle Mariners In The 3rd Round Of The 2013 Draft
Traded To The Cardinals in 2017 For LHP Marco Gonzales
AAA Memphis wRC+: 110 AAA Tacoma wRC+: 106
Kyle Reis (Prospect #5 On Personal List, Prior To Combining Lists With Colin Garner)
In conjunction with my friend Colin Garner over at The Redbird Daily, we present to you our combined list of the Top 30 Prospects in the Cardinals organization! Every other day for the next two months, From January 28th until March 29th, we will be presenting you with an exhaustive evaluation on each of the top 30 prospects in the organization starting with prospect #30 and counting down to prospect #1. This is our combined list, not our own individual lists. For additional information on how we came these rankings, CLICK HERE. Without further delay, we present...
It is going to be the obvious answer, but any conversation about what to like about Tyler O'Neill has to start with the incredible in-game power that he possesses.
Last season alone, O'Neill hit 31 home runs with an additional 26 doubles. O'Neill really struggled at the onset of the 2017 season while making his debut at AAA, but he started to settle in come June. From June 4th until the end of the season, O'Neill hit 272/348/588/937 with 26 home runs, 13 doubles, and a walk rate of about 10%. His strikeout rate over this time was about 28%, which will not work, but the rest absolutely will.
Some variation of the question "Will Tyler O'Neill be the next Randal Grichuk?" pops up in my Twitter feed almost weekly. I can't promise that he won't be, but there are reasons to think that O'Neill is a better prospect with better potential than Grichuk ever had. First, the most home runs that Grichuk ever hit in a minor league season before having a full season at the majors was 25. Tyler O'Neill has hit 30+ home runs in two different seasons already. Second, Tyler O'Neill is capable of taking a walk. In 2488 minor league plate appearances, Randal Grichuk only walked 114 times. In 1955 minor league plate appearances, Tyler O'Neill has walked 178 times. That means that Grichuk's minor league walk rate or 4.58% is 4.5 percentage points less than O'Neill's career 9.1% walk rate.
O'Neill is more athletic than his muscle-bound frame might lead you to believe. It's impressive to watch him run around in the outfield. He has an average to above average arm for a corner outfielder. He has a flair for the dramatics, as well. It isn't beyond O'Neill to go all-out for anything anywhere near him. Everything about O'Neill, from the athleticism to the bat, screams "POWER HITTING LEFT FIELDER," the type of which the Cardinals haven't seen. Matt Holliday included.
I usually don't get caught up in awards and such, but I love the pedigree that he brought to the organization when the Cardinals stole him from the Mariners for Marco Gonzales. O'Neill is a two-time participant in the Arizona Fall League, excelling both times. He's appeared on nearly every top 100 prospects list you'll find, over multiple different. The Canadian born O'Neill has been a member of The World Team during MLB's Futures Game. He's been a midseason all-star, a post-season all-star, and a full season all-star multiples times, and at nearly every level he's played. He was also the MVP of Southern League in Double-A during the 2016 season. If he was this good in the Mariners system, a system that has a reputation for doing damage to their prospects, imagine how good he can be in an organization like the Cardinals' that are known for maximizing their prospects.
One thing that I love about O'Neill is that he is okay with the type of hitter that he is. Sure, it'd be swell if he'd strikeout less, but he's fully embraced that he's a home run hitter. He often talks about this very topic with the media. He knows that he'll make it to the majors because of the power bat and he's not trying to get cute with it. He's not trying to shorten his swing. He's not trying to make weak contact so that he strikes out less. O'Neill just wants to mash, and that is precisely what he needs to do and needs to embrace.
The most significant area of concern with O'Neill is how frequently he strike's out. Tyler O'Neill has put up a dangerously high strikeout rate of 28.1% (which we will get to later). Randal Grichuk's career minor league strikeout percentage was about 20%, which is average/below average. That should help to show just how bad 28% is. It's what Fangraphs calls "awful." Even with the power that he displays, that strikeout rate should make you wonder if the gamble to put him in the lineup is worth it. The answer will be "yes," as long as he continues to produce the way that he has in the minors. More than likely, that type of hitter struggles in the major leagues. So, yeah, it's a huge concern.
O'Neill, who I've affectionately taken to calling "The Canadian Rocky Balboa," is built like a tank. The son of a former "Mr. Canada" bodybuilding champion, O'Neill has more muscles than I have brain cells. However, because of an injury during the spring to his oblique, O'Neill now has people questioning if the aggressive amount of muscle mass on his frame is a hindrance. To this point in his career it hasn't been, and I don't think that there's reason to believe that it will be now. With that in mind, and I might be mistaken here, this is the biggest I have ever seen O'Neill. There might be a reason to hint that he's currently a little too big for his frame. His muscle mass aside, one thing I know is that an oblique injury is not something to be taken lightly even if it is mild. Especially for a player so dependant on power for success.
O'Neill is a perfectly adequate corner outfielder, but I think that he ultimately profiles as a perfect left fielder. You'll hear the Cardinals sell him as relief in center field. You shouldn't believe that. There's a difference in between being able to play the position in the minors and being able to do it in the majors. O'Neill is a perfectly fine minor league center fielder, but I would not want him spending an extended amount of time there for the Cardinals if/when he makes it to the majors. That's not a knock on him. It's just isn't uncommon for the Cardinals to misrepresent the defensive prowess of one of their precious commodities.
This is a weird one, but O'Neill changed his swing last season, and I hate it. It was more level at the beginning of the 2017 season than I have ever seen it. Once upon a time, O'Neill had a very accentuated uppercut swing. It was beautiful. Some scouts thought that it would work against him, but it never did. I'm not surprised that he had worse offensive output while leveling it out. By the end of the season, a little bit of the uppercut was back but not enough to make me happy. Again, O'Neill knows what kind of hitter he is. Any organization that tries to change that in any way is doing both themselves and O'Neill a disservice. Let him eat.
If I'm comparing Tyler O'Neill to anyone right now, it's Logan Morrison. O'Neill is at a weird stage in his development because of his power/strikeout profile, and he has a vast delta of likeliest outcomes. If he fails to make the adjustments need to let the power shine, then he'll be something along the lines of once heralded and now lost Pete O'Brien. However, with a little adjustment, O'Neill could very quickly be the next Khris Davis.
As always, these articles can't be done without Fangraphs and Baseball Reference. They are equally as reliant on the skills of Cardinalsgif's and NChill17. It's a pleasure to do this list with my friend Colin Garner at The Redbird Daily. All Video in this article courtesy of MiLB.tv.
Thanks For Reading!