First, the bad news. Tyler O’Neill, OF, is a Seattle Mariners power hitting prospect. The prospect corpses of Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, Mike Zunino, and Jesus Montero still hover over this franchise. The 2014 6th overall pick, Alex Jackson, has actually regressed since joining Seattle. Their history isn’t pretty, and Mariner fans deserve our pity … and Seattle is a rainy city (ok, I think that will begin and end my foray into the poetry game). The bad news does not end there. O’Neill strikes out a ton (30.5% K%) and doesn’t walk much (6.5% BB%), either. So why would I like this guy at all? Because when O’Neill does make contact, he absolutely scorches the ball, and he is still only 20 years old, so there is plenty of time for improvement.
O’Neill triple-slashed, .260/.316/.558, with 32 homers, and 16 steals in 106 games played in the High-A California League last season, a hitter’s paradise. He made legitimate improvements during the season, doing his best work after returning from the 2015 Pan-Am games on July 23rd. From that point forward, he slashed, .280/.381/.702, with 16 homers in only 41 games. O’Neill credited his improvement to a new batting stance that allowed him to cover more of the plate, unlocking his power to all fields. He then put up .733 slugging percentage in the Arizona Fall League, jacking 3 homers in 31 PA. And about those Pan-Am games I mentioned earlier, he only won a gold medal with Team Canada, hitting 3 homers, one of which was a 3-run bomb to give Canada a 3-1 win over Cuba.
O’Neill’s best underlying skills are his plus bat speed and exit velocity, which have become the sexy stats du jour in the baseball community, especially with strikeouts sky rocketing around MLB. No longer is striking out the kiss of death, but when you do make contact, you better make it count. O’Neill also has a reputation for being an extremely hard worker. He wanted to improve his speed last off-season, and he did just that, stealing a career high 16 bases in 2015.
The risks are very real, but in fantasy baseball it is all about upside, and Tyler O’Neill is pure upside right now. In his prime, I will give him the projection of 73/25/88/.249/9, with room for much more if he can cut down on his strikeouts. His ETA is 2017-18.
By Michael Halpern