We’re currently working on updating our top prospects list for the midseason, and so as a part of that I have been working through our preseason lists to see if anyone may have jumped up or down based on new information and additional performance. I've reached the Mariners, and one name that jumped out to me was that of outfielder Tyler O’Neill.
O’Neill was drafted by the Mariners back in 2013 out of a British Columbia high school in the 3rd round, and has been slowly moving his way through the minors. He made his full season debut in 2014, but missed nearly three months that season after breaking his hand when he punched a wall in frustration. He didn't hit well to finish up that season, but the Mariners moved him up to the High-A Cal League anyway, and completely hit the snot out of the ball there. He missed a couple weeks in July, but still finished as the league leader with 32 home runs. Overall, his performance was excellent, hitting .260/.316/.558 and adding 16 stolen bases to those home runs. While the Cal League tends to inflate offense, reports on him since he was drafted have pointed to his potentially plus power potential, and a 128 wRC+ make it hard to argue against that. He even continued that performance in the Arizona Fall League, hitting three home runs with a .333 batting average in 8 games there.
Coming into the season, we had O’Neill ranked at #5 in our Mariners’ top 10, and he’s off to a great start at AA this year:
Batting Average: .332 (4th in Southern League)
Home Runs: 12 (2nd)
Slugging Percentage: .587 (2nd)
OPS: .981 (2nd)
The numbers jump off the page, especially when you remember that he won’t turn 21 until the 22nd of this month. He's the third youngest hitter in the Southern League right now, which just makes the performance stand out all the more.
Ethan Novak of Lookout Landing recently interviewed Jackson Generals’ broadcaster Brandon Liebhaber, who had this to say about O’Neill:
BL: What has really stood out this year is his ability to make adjustments and show that he is not just a power hitter. Obviously, that is his loudest tool but to see him almost halfway through the season with almost as many walks as he had all of last year is impressive. For a 20-year-old to make the jump from the California League to the much less hitter-friendly Southern League and put up better numbers in many respects has been awesome to watch.
The power is prodigious. I always say that you can't really comprehend it until you see him in person or get a good look at his upper half. He has hit some jaw-dropping shots, but he consistently makes hard contact. Would love to see his average exit velocity. He actually doesn't lead the league in homers (gasp!) right now, but is hitting well above .300 and always seems to do something productive.
The strikeouts are still high, but you're willing to take those with the production he provides. He has cut down on those and has done a great job of embracing the Control the Zone approach. This year has proven he is more than just a guy with 75 or 80-grade power, and the front office members I've spoken with have all had extremely good things to say about the adjustments he has made so far.
The numbers bear out an improved approach at the plate, as he has walked in 9% of plate appearances and dropped his strikeouts to a career low rate of 23.5%. A look at his heat map from MLBFarm points to a player who is hitting the ball well, and to all fields:
If you’re looking for a reason to nit pick about his performance this season, he does have a fairly significant platoon split. Even in that though, it's actually a reverse-split: he's currently hitting .380/.421/.671 against RHP and .215/.329/.385 against lefties.
Overall, O’Neill could finish this season as the top fantasy prospect in the Mariners’ system with the team's decision to move Edwin Diaz to the bullpen, and could be ready to contribute in Seattle by the end of the 2017 season. The potential is for a hitter who can provide above-average to potentially elite production (if it all breaks right) in three categories (HR, RBI, AVG). I’m not sure yet whether he will end up in my personal top 50 midseason update, but it’s already a significant jump that he's in the discussion in the first place.