Tyler O’Neill has confounded the fantasy baseball community for years. On one hand, O’Neill has been a true destroyer of baseballs at every stage of his development. He quickly developed prodigious power, never slugging less than .508 in a season after his 20th birthday. That very year, he led the California League (A+), which included sluggers Cody Bellinger, Matt Chapman, Ryan McMahon, JD Davis, and AJ Reed (which was a big deal then), in home runs.
On the other hand, O’Neill has consistently struggled with his contact skills. During that same 2015 season, O’Neill’s swinging strike rate was up above 34% on his way to striking out 30.5% of the time. He never struck out less than 24.9% in any season while in the minor leagues. Nevertheless, he reached the majors in 2018 and it was more of the same: colossal HRs mixed with colossal strikeout rates. The result: inconsistent playing time.
It is difficult to develop when one cannot get into a rhythm, and O’Neill suffered from his lack of a defined role. 2019 was supposed to be his breakout campaign, but injuries and demotions made it choppier than expected. He started five games in a row just twice and only 30 games overall. It seemed as if he’d turned a corner in July, starting 23 of the Cards’ games and dropping his strikeout rate to a manageable 25% in the process. He also chipped in four HRs, a .823 OPS, and 116 wRC+ before breaking his wrist on August 1st, killing all positive momentum.
This season, O’Neill has started all five of the Cardinals’ games and hit as high as fifth in their most recent. He has rewarded their confidence by hitting the absolute dickens out of the baseball.
Tyler O'Neill hits a 438-foot moonshot to deep center field and the #STLCards are on the board.
Stream: FSGO – https://t.co/sRbYwjl2rd pic.twitter.com/uxVS8VIOf5
— FOX Sports Midwest (@FSMidwest) July 29, 2020
Out of the 14 balls O’Neill has put in play, he has three barrels (21.4%), an average exit velocity of 92 mph, and a 57.1% Hard Hit rate. Of course, the sample is minuscule, but all rates are almost precisely in line with his debut season in 2018.
Certainly, we can be sure of O’Neill’s ability to obliterate baseballs, but it seems like he has made legitimate strides regarding his plate discipline and approach. @BatFlipCrazy (aka the King of Fantasy Baseball) noticed such last week:
One player who stands out in a VERY small sample: Tyler O’Neill. In his first 5 G (17 PA), he has his highest 5-game rolling average for contact. It’s part of longer-term trend.
O-swing: 28.1% last 40 / 35.7% career✅
Contact: 68.3% / 59.7%✅
K: 24.1% / 35.8%✅
BB: 7.1% / 5.8%✅ pic.twitter.com/0wELKgVCRi
— BatFlip Crazy (@batflipcrazy) July 31, 2020
A potential key to these positive trends is O’Neill’s newfound knack for hitting breaking balls. The sample, again, is very small, but O’Neill has gone from well below average to noteworthy against breaking pitches.
There are lots of positive developments here for O’Neill. Far more positive than negative. Keep an eye out, but as of this moment, Tyler O’Neill is legit.
Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)