Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
Peoria, AZ (ISN) – After a successful spring training in Arizona, where he put together a .400 average with a home-run and five RBIs in 11 Cactus League games with the parent MLB Seattle Mariners, Maple Ridge, BC’s Tyler O’Neill will begin his 2016 season with the Jackson Generals, the Mariners AA affiliate in Tennessee.
Former Langley Blaze and Maple Ridge BC native Tyler O’Neill at bat for the Seattle Mariners during a Cactus Leage game against Texas in March (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
O’Neill, a former member of the Langley Blaze of the BC Premier Baseball League (BCPBL), was a third round draft pick of the Mariners in 2013 and has been enjoying a quick rise through the Mariners system since then.
A 5’11”, 210 lb. tank of a player, the 20-year old O’Neill has a powerful build that catchers (under the old school rules) would definitely not want to have a collision with at home plate. He has been using that power to put up minor league numbers that have led Baseball America to rank him as the fourth-best prospect in the Mariners system.
O’Neill has been using his powerful 5’10”, 210 lb. physique to put up impressive power numbers at the Class A level, earning him a spot on the Mariners Class AA Jackson affiliate for 2016 (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Beginning in the Arizona Rookie League in 2013, O’Neill put up a .310 average, but with just a single home run and 15 RBIs in 100 at bats. That changed somewhat dramatically in 2014, where he spent the bulk of the season with the Mariners Full Season Class A affiliate – the Clinton LumberKings – and hit .247, but with 13 home runs and 38 RBIs in 219 at bats.
His power surge continued in 2015, this time with the Bakersfield Blaze, the Mariners Class A Advanced affiliate, where the outfielder hit a California League best 32 home runs, with 87 RBIs and a .268 average and .558 slugging percentage in 106 games. He also played regularly with the Canadian National team, winning a gold medal at the 2015 Pan Am Games.
O’Neill, here playing right field in a game against Texas in Peoria on March 18th, enjoyed playing frequently this spring in front of thousands of fans during the 11 MLB games he participated in (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Those numbers certainly caught the attention of the Mariners brass and O’Neill came into 2016 spring training with the goal of climbing another rung in the ladder and making the step to the AA level.
“I was at Advanced A Bakersfield last year and I am hopefully moving up to AA in Tennessee this season,” said O’Neill when ISN caught up with him following a game against the Texas Rangers in the middle of spring training in Peoria, Arizona in March. “I want to go there and make an impact and see what happens.”
O’Neill’s impact in spring training with the parent Mariners was certainly an immediate one and likley was a key factor in his beginning the 2016 season with the AA Generals. He had a hit and an RBI in each of his first two MLB games this spring against Arizona and San Francisco and followed that up with a 3-run home run in his third game against Cincinatti. He tailed off after that, but four hits in 10 at bats, one of which was a home run, was enough for the club to see he could produce at the next level.
O’Neill had an immediate impact in his first three spring training games with the Mariners in March, notching a pair of hits and a three-run home run, and finished with a .400 average (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
He also spent some time in the camp of the AAA Tacoma Rainers where he had a home-run in a game against the White Sox AAA affiliate.
Like any player at his level, O’Neill was appreciative of his chance to play with the big league club in spring training, “It’s always fun and I appreciate the opportunity. It is a nice atmospehre to play in front of thousands of people as opposed to just a handful on the back fields. It really gets you into the season atmosphere.”
To continue advancing, O’Neill will have to keep putting up the power numbers and work on his discipline at the plate. Like many power hitters, O’Neill is an all or nothing kind of guy. With his 32 home-runs in Bakersfield, came 137 strikeouts in 407 at bats and the year before that, in Clinton, 79 strikeouts in those 219 at bats.
Recent scouting reports have stated that while he understands the strike zone, he can get overanxious and chase breaking balls off the plate, while also getting too pull-happy at times. However once he can find the balance between his hitting ability and power, he has the chance to hit for average in addition to light-tower power and has the potential to develop into a middle-of-the-order run producer at the highest level.
O’Neill, here at the Mariners spring training complex in Peoria, Arizona in March, hopes to be signing autographs for his fans for a very long time (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
O’Neill understands what he needs to do to make those adjustments and has the attitude to match. When signing an autograph for a young fan following a workout in Peoria during spring training, O’Neill was asked if it (signing for fans) ever got old. “Old? Not at all,” responded O’Neill. “This is all really new for me! I hope it never does get old, because I plan on doing this for a very long time.”
No doubt he will and we will see him patrolling the outfield at Safeco Field in Seattle in no time at all.