The Cardinals are bringing Tyler O’Neill to the Bigs. Here is the Instant Fantasy Spin
Tommy Pham’s groin issue is Tyler O’Neill’s opportunity for promotion and a potential Fantasy gem for owners. In our 2016 Fantasy Draft kit, I ranked O’Neill — then in the Mariners organization — as one of my Top 25 prospects because I loved the tools and I wasn’t overly concerned about some of the peripherals. It’s not easy to see how O’Neill receives the at-bats with the Cardinals to be a “must-own,” but he has the ceiling to be that if he does.
O’Neill has the raw tools to make a significant impact for Fantasy teams. His power is immense, he is a smart baserunner and while his speed isn’t blazing, he could steal 10-15 bases and more importantly, remain in the outfield. Its easy to see 30 home runs and 5-10 stolen bases with a ceiling of 40 bombs and 10-15 steals in career years.
Like everybody in today’s baseball, there is a lot of swing-and-miss in his game and he doesn’t walk at the kind of rate you expect from an elite slugger. O’Neill has struck out 560 times with only 179 walks in 1,774 minor league at-bats. Owners aren’t going to mistake O’Neill for Javier Baez, but they won’t blink twice because they thought they saw Joey Votto in the box, either. It’s not a meaningful concern for me, but if you want to find a flaw, that’s it.
— MiLB.com (@MiLB) April 16, 2018
If I could revise my 2018 Top 25 Rookies list, O’Neill would be in my Top 15 because of his early promotion, but it isn’t clear that he will receive an opportunity. He was promoted because Pham has a groin issue but reports haven’t stated that he will be placed on the disabled list or miss significant time. If Pham is out, Dexter Fowler would have to move over to center to make room for O’Neill to play right. I wouldn’t drop a player that is currently contributing to your Fantasy team, but if you have space to stash him, I would. The upside justifies a “wait and see” approach.
As a Mariners prospect, O’Neill had a breakout 2015 campaign where he hit 32 home runs, stole 16 bases and batted .260 with a .874 OPS. While those are fantastic Fantasy numbers, the peripherals weren’t all chocolates and puppies. His .260 batting average combined with only 29 walks in 407 at bats resulted in a less than glowing .316 OBP at High-A. OBP is a stat that analysts look at closely when trying to predict future performance and High-A is a level that top prospects often dominate before moving onto bigger and better things. It wasn’t a red flag of concern for me, but to have a mediocre On-Base Percentage that reflected a similar approach in 2014 was a number I took note of.
In 2016, O’Neill was promoted to Double-A and had the kind of season that I felt was a positive developmental step forward. He hit eight fewer home runs in than 2015 in 85 more at-bats and stole four fewer bases, but his peripherals took a significant leap forward. His batting average jumped from .260 to .293 and his OBP improved from a concerning .316 to an impressive .374. He more than doubled his walks from 29 in 407 at-bats in 2015 to 62 in 492 at-bats in 2016. And, while he hit fewer home runs, he slightly improved his OPS from .874 to .882 and he did it in the prospects proving ground, Double-A. In spite of the meaningful improvement in his peripherals, O’Neill’s luster seemed to be fading in the eyes of analysts that appeared bullish on him after 2015. They were more reserved and less enamored after 2016 even though the peripherals suggested that he had improved his approach..
As the trade deadline approached last July, O’Neill was traded to the Cardinals for Marco Gonzales. My initial reaction to the trade was that the Mariners had lost confidence in O’Neill and that they had given up on him. My initial opinion was based on the fact that while Gonzales is a savvy, crafty left-hander, I have never been high on him. That put me lower on Gonzales than most analysts and after some consideration I came to the conclusion that while the Mariners may not have been dumping O’Neill, they certainly sold low. I saw O’Neill as a borderline untouchable prospect and the Mariners had traded him for a pitcher whose ceiling was as a number three starter with the possibility that he could be moved to the bullpen as a lefty specialist. For me, 2016 increased my projections of O’Neill and I ranked him in my Top 25 prospects list for our Draft Kit as a result, but that was not the consensus view.
O’Neill’s 2017 season has me both extremely bullish and slightly concerned. His 31 home runs and 14 stolen bases is what I am looking for from an impact Fantasy outfielder, while his .246 batting average and .321 OBP justifies some concern. What I like most about O’Neill is the lack of helium for a guy who should easily hit 30 home runs and steal 5-10 bases. Those kind of obtainable numbers compare reasonably to the Angels’ Justin Upton, an outfielder that I have always felt was underrated. There is still some risk to O’Neill and it isn’t easy to find full-time at-bats in St. Louis right now, but I see him as a buy low prospect.
The ironic thing is that the Mariners have at bats for an outfielder like O’Neill while the Cardinals don’t. Pham broke out in 2017 and is under team control through the 2021 season while Fowler is signed to a disastrously immovable contract that expires after 2021 as well. The Cardinals also have Jose Martinez, who can play the outfield and Harrison Bader, who is also a touted prospect. O’Neill has the highest ceiling, the question is whether he is provided the opportunity.