Editor’s Note: A.E. Schafer aka the red baron has once again compiled a rather impressive list of Cardinals prospects doing a write-up on 40 individual prospects. As a convenience to our readers, he releases the list in a couple big chunks so everyone can read about all of the prospects at once. While that is a convenience to all of us who eagerly await the arrival of prospect lists, it might not be as convenient if you are looking for a player’s particular scouting report. So, as a further convenience, we are putting the individual scouting reports in separate posts to make individual players easier to find. You can find the full lists on our 2018 prospect page here. —CE
#4: Tyler O’Neill, OF
5’11”, 210 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right
DOB: 22 June 1995; Drafted Rd 3 2013 (Mariners)
Level(s) in 2017: Tacoma, Memphis (Triple A, Cards/Mariners)
Notable Numbers: 557 PA, 31 HR, 0.41 BB/K (Tac), 0.23 BB/K (Mem), 106 wRC+ (Tac), 111 wRC+ (Mem)
So, what’s so great about this guy?
One word: power. That’s what’s so great about Tyler O’Neill.
Which isn’t to say there aren’t other things about Tyler O’Neill that are good, maybe even pretty great; I hear he dances a magnificent rumba. But when it comes right down to it, the thing the Cardinals were looking for when they pulled together the trade which sent Marco Gonzales from the St. Louis system to Seattle, the thing which puts O’Neill above the player I just stated was my personal favourite in the system, is power.
Arozarena has plus bat speed, Harrison Bader makes loud contact, Adolis Garcia can really drive the ball, particularly to the opposite field. But none of them have the kind of raw power Tyler O’Neill does. And it’s that power potential around which everything else really revolves for the Canadian slugger.
O’Neill doesn’t necessarily cut the figure of a slugger on first glance. It’s easy to picture Giancarlo Stanton at 6’6” and however many pounds hitting majestic home runs. Tyler O’Neill, on the other hand, at sub-six feet, isn’t quite so obvious. Then again, upon closer inspection, he essentially looks like someone just took Aaron Judge or Giancarlo and sort of squished them down a little, until they’re half a foot shorter than they began. O’Neill is every bit that jacked, just without quite so much verticality. One could even argue his shorter stature should give him an advantage over the giants, considering how pitchers are often able to exploit the long levers and large zones of hitters of 6’4”+. I’m not sure that argument holds, but one could make it, I think.
I’ve written about O’Neill on a couple of other occasions, so permit me to offer the abridged version here: he’s made multiple changes to his swing over the seasons since being drafted, and I think the version of his swing we see now, with the lower hand load and less spread out stance, is probably the best. He’s always struggled to find a good trigger mechanism for his swing, leading to issues timing up pitches, but I think he’s headed in the right direction. There’s still a lot of swing and miss to his game, but that seems to be getting better as well. He struck out less than 20% of the time over the last few weeks of the season and into the playoffs for Memphis. And a Tyler O’Neill who could get his K rate under 20% is an elite, elite, elite prospect.
As for the non-power hitting stuff, O’Neill runs well, probably a 55 runner, and it translates into what I think is at least average, and probably a touch above, defense in a corner outfield spot, as well as an efficient, if not especially prolific, stolen base threat. Over the past three seasons, Tyler has swiped 42 bags in 51 attempts. If he were to get aggressive some year, he could probably put up a 20/20 season. His throwing arm is strong enough to fit in right field long term. The Cardinals tried him in center off and on later in the season after acquiring him to see how he looked, but I expect he’ll settle into right, unless circumstances dictate otherwise.
The Cardinal system, in general, has much the same makeup as the Cards’ current major league team: an enormous amount of depth, but not a ton of true star power. The player who ranks above O’Neill, Carson Kelly, kind of embodies that. But in Arozarena and Tyler O’Neill, the Cardinals do have, I believe, two prospects with legitimate star ceilings. The fact I believe O’Neill’s power is such a carrying tool to the point it makes him the more likely star of those two, rather than Arozarena having to do multiple things well to ascend to that level, is why the two are ranked in the order they are.
If he’s good, it will look like: Again, stature aside, Giancarlo Stanton serves as a decent comp for the kind of player the really good version of Tyler O’Neill looks like. Before this past season, Stanton was more of an all or nothing hitter, but really improved once he closed off his stance and started to push his strikeout rate down. Similarly, O’Neill in the past was always searching for a good swing trigger, and vulnerable to offspeed pitches as a result. Perhaps it was just a hot streak late in the year when he made more contact without sacrificing power, but there’s a chance he simply found a mechanical cue that works better for him, and actually improved. He’ll likely always be a fairly high strikeout guy, but if he can keep his walk rate up in the double digits he can get on base enough to be a real offensive force even when he doesn’t put the ball over the wall. If his plate discipline slides at the big league level and looks more like his overall line at Memphis, rather than what he did after the swing changes seemed to take hold, then Randal Grichuk is, in fact, a pretty solid comparison.