Age: 25 (Turns 26 on February 12, 2014)
Acquired: Draft, 2010 -- Round 31, #949 overall
Player Profile & Career Summary:
Here are just a few of the descriptions of Mike O'Neill I've found while researching this post:
He's old for a prospect (25) and he has shockingly little power-in 126 games this year he's managed 19 extra-base hits. He's 5'9" and spends most of his time as a corner outfielder, and he is in a distinctly O'Neillian slump in his last 10 games: .219/.375/.219.
He's a dead-ball outfielder, basically, which means I have reasons to endorse his place on the 25-man roster that have nothing to do with his value. -- Dan Moore
Cardinals outfield prospect Mike O'Neill doesn't have any physical tools and won't hit home runs, but he does have a couple of superhero-caliber skills: plate discipline and contact. He's drawn 34 walks against eight strikeouts in 131 at-bats for Double-A Springfield, on the way to a .344/.476/.420 line in 39 games. That's one of the most extreme BB/K/PA ratios I've ever seen. He's 25 and as I said, he doesn't have standout tools and lacks power, but geez.
Last fall I asked a scout who was very familiar with O'Neill about him. The scout shrugged his shoulders and said "That guy breaks our methods. No real tools, no power or speed or arm, but he just keeps getting on base. I think he's an organization guy or a fringe reserve but I'd love to have him on my Triple-A team." -- John Sickels
Despite hitting for no power (three career minor league home runs), O'Neill simply refuses to give in to opposing pitchers and repeatedly draws walks at close to a 3-to-1 rate compared to his strikeouts. This profile limits him as an offensive player, and he doesn't have great speed and would have to play a corner outfield spot on defense, but a player who avoids making outs at this rate and with this level of consistency is worth watching. -- Jeff Moore
I'm not up there looking to walk. I'm looking for a specific pitch and if the pitcher doesn't give it to me, I'm taking until I get it. I'm not going to swing if it's out of the zone I'm looking for. That's kind of what generates walks for me. I'm patient, and once I get my pitch, I'm swinging. I'm attacking the baseball. -- Mike O'Neill
That last quote is a really rare inside look at the approach of one of the most unique compilations of hitting talent I've ever seen when researching prospects; Mike O'Neill is simply the most disciplined hitter I've ever seen.
Take this on for size: In his minor league career, O'Neill has walked 204 times in 1301 PA's and struck out only 86 times. That's roughly 2.5 walks for every strikeout. Even more insane: He has only 66 XBH to go along with 285 singles. Mike O'Neill respects the first base bag so much he's afraid to round it, but loves it so much that he can't go much more than one plate appearance without paying it a visit. He's the baseball manifestation of the "friend zone".
It takes a special kind of confident stubbornness in one's ability to stroll into the batter's box and say: "Nope, that's not the strike I want to hit. Nope, not that one either. But I know that at some point tonight you're going to give me the pitch I'm looking for, and I won't miss it." And then rarely miss it. That's just crazy, folks.
Continuing down the Path of Just Plain Weird: Pitchers, at least to this point, don't fill up the strike zone against him either. Why? I have no earthly idea: O'Neill isn't going to take you deep, he's going to take a ton of strikes, and yet opposing pitchers only throw him strikes 56.7% of the time. Hey, guys, he's not going to hit .500...or is he?
I can honestly say that I don't know how any of this translates to the major leagues. There's really no significant comp for a player with these skills besides Wade Boggs (who had a bit more power) and, as WillieMcGeesTwin pointed out in a past VEB thread on this subject, little known former Phillie Greg Gross who had a 17 year career in the big leagues and grand total of 183 extra base hits in 4355 PA's.
Mike O'Neill ZiPS: .275/.360/.331; 11.6% BB, 9.0% K, .312 wOBA
That's with only a .304 BABIP for a guy with career .354 BABIP in the minor leagues. If you split the difference you end up with a line in the neighborhood of .295/.387/.343 and a .322 wOBA by my back-of-the-napkin calculations. Makes you wonder how many RBI's Oscar Taveras might have this year if both O'Neill and Greg Garcia are hitting in front of him.
O'Neill is basically cemented in LF. He doesn't have the arm to play in right or the speed to play in center, and would be one of the smallest first baseman in the last 40 years. This lack of versatility is what will most likely hamper him from getting a true look at the big league level. O'Neill would likely make a great pinch hitter, but only being able to play one position makes it really unlikely that anyone would carry him on their active roster to find out.
The Cardinals protected him this offseason, so they clearly think that he's got value, even if they aren't sure what just yet. Hard to see how O'Neill can keep a regular job in LF at Memphis with younger players with more numerous tools, like James Ramsey and Stephen Piscotty, barking up the tree from Springfield. Hell, he might not even be able to keep it from Tommy Pham, assuming Pham can stay healthy for the first time in his career.
It's hard to say, but a player with zero power and zero versatility who plays a position where most teams stash a slugger of some sort certainly doesn't help his cause any. O'Neill's a throw-in, the type of guy you toss in with a more projectable player.
Leading off at Memphis and getting quite a bit of time at DH so others can get reps in the OF. Secretly hoping with glee that somehow O'Neill, Garcia, and Carpenter lead off an MLB game at some point, if only so that the opposing pitcher tallies 41 pitches trying to get just those three players out.