This was going to be a big season for Seattle Mariner outfield prospect Tyler O’Neill. Just 21 years old and coming off a big 2015 season that put him on the prospect map, all eyes were on the right-handed slugger’s Double-A debut. So far, the Mariners must be happy with what they are seeing.
O’Neill was selected by the Mariners in the third round of the 2013 MLB Draft. He came to Seattle from Garibaldi Secondary School in British Columbia as a high school catcher known for an advanced approach at the plate. That quickly changed once his professional career began.
He began in right field at the age of 18 and had a solid half-season debut in 2013. He hit .310/.405/.545 with a .980 OPS in his 28-game rookie campaign. He struggled with the strike zone, not quite showing the plate discipline the Mariners envisioned. He struck out 27 times and walked 12 times in 100 at bats. That’s not terrible by any means, but it certainly could use some improvement.
That improvement didn’t come in his second pro season, his first full one in the Midwest League. O’Neill looked lost at the plate. He flashed some power, belting 13 home runs in 219 at bats, but he struck out 32.2 percent of the time (79 times in 245 plate appearances) while walking at a worse rate than his first season.
The 2015 season, however, put O’Neill on the radar. While he still wasn’t up to par at the plate as an all-around hitter, his big second-half improvements showed what he could become. O’Neill slashed .240/.278/.476 in the first half of the season with 14 home runs and nine doubles. He struck out 78 times in his first 225 at bats while walking just 10 times. The second half was another story, however: O’Neill refined his swing and became more patient at the plate once again. He hit .286 while getting on base at an impressive .361 lick. His power was in full effect: He mashed 18 home runs and 12 doubles en route to a 1.020 OPS. Most importantly, he cut down his strikeout-to-walk ratio, whiffing 59 times and walking 19 in 182 at-bats. His 32 home runs were second-best in the minor leagues.
Standing at just 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds, he doesn’t have a typical power hitter frame. However, when you see his swing, you understand why so many balls leave the yard. He has tremendous bat speed and natural strength, and when he gets the ball right, it’s a pretty sight. O’Neill had simply been too aggressive heading into last season’s second half; he really struggled chasing breaking stuff. He seems to have found his groove, though: His 2015 success has carried into a breakout 2016.
O’Neill’s first go in Double-A has gone even better than expected. He is currently slashing .308/.375/.545 for the Jackson Generals as an extra-base machine, posting a .920 OPS. He has 20 doubles and three triples and is second in the Southern League with 16 home runs.
For more on Tyler O’Neill and his exciting bat, head on over to Today’s Knuckleball for my full article by clicking on the link below.