Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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Rising Stock: Tyler O’Neill

Sometimes you just get a feeling. That, for me, was Tyler O’Neill being a star. After three poor seasons at the major league level, questions about his ability to be an everyday player were fair. After 31 barrels over his first three seasons over 410 ABs, O’Neill has started smashing the baseball including 25 barrels in his 177 ABs in 2021. While O’Neill has struggled mightily with his batters eye (Bottom 5% of the league in walk rate and bottom 4% in strikeout rate), the combination of power and speed O’Neill brings could make him a top tier outfielder for years to come. Let’s dive into the numbers to show the reasons why O’Neill has turned around the potential bust tag many labeled him entering 2021.

The former pick of the Seattle Mariners in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft, Tyler O’Neill broke into the majors in April 2018. He was ranked as high as 36th in the Baseball America top 100 prospects list. In his 2017 and 2018 seasons between AAA Tacoma and Memphis, O’Neill mashed, hitting a .820 OPS in ’17 and a 1.078 OPS in ’18. But there were concerns about the deal itself that brought O’Neill to St. Louis.

Near the trade deadline in 2017, O’Neill was traded from the Mariners to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Marco Gonzales. Coming into 2021, those concerns seemed to be the case as Gonzalez had carved out a role at the top of the Mariners pitching staff to the tune of 3.97 ERA and 386 strikeouts in 476 innings, while O’Neill had batted to a slash line of .229/.292/.424.

These disappointing numbers were frustrating for some Cardinals fans, but with the emergence of O’Neill as a top-tier defender, the outcry for other prospects in the organization quieted down. After winning his first gold glove in 2020, O’Neill proved himself a worthy player in the big leagues. Now, if only the bat would follow suit.

For many Tyler O’Neill had all the potential in the world coming into the season, but just hadn’t quite put it all together. In 2021 though, O’Neill’s metrics prove what made him such a highly regarded prospect. O’Neill has posted 5 Baseball Savant metrics ranking in the top 6 percentile including Avg exit velocity, expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA), expected slugging(xSLG), Barrel%, and sprint speed. In particular, it’s the sprint speed (99th percentile) and xSLG (100th percentile) that jump out the most. The only other Major Leaguer posting both a top 3 percentile in both categories is Ronald Acuna Jr. This poses the question, what does Tyler O’Neill truly project at? Considering the combination of power, speed, and gold glove defense, the potential for O’Neill to be a star is now as bright as ever.

In addition, the demise of Marco Gonzales can also ease the minds of many Cards fans. In 41.1 innings, Gonzalez’s 5.44 ERA, 5.73 fielding independent pitching(FIP), and 1.38 WHIP are also concerning stats. What’s more, is that he ranks near the bottom of the league in nearly every statistic including xwOBA, xERA, xBA, Barrel% (all bottom 1 percentile), and fastball velocity (bottom 3 percentile). While O’Neill trends upwards, the player he was traded for has quietly become one of the worst pitchers in baseball.

As Tyler O’Neill approaches his 26th birthday on Tuesday, he continues to improve. As with any young player, there are always going to be early struggles. Yet, what makes O’Neill such a fascinating player is that while he was ranked highly, many had already written him off. With continued success at the major league level, the swap between him and Marco Gonzales will bring smiles to Cardinals fans for years to come.