The battle for a starting spot in right field seems like a complicated one for the St. Louis Cardinals, but I feel that it will be quickly determined by solid performance and the potential of Tyler O’Neill.
While not many batters on the St. Louis Cardinals have had a spectacular spring, the subtle improvements that we have seen from Tyler O’Neill this spring will lead to great things in 2019.
His poor average and strikeout rate of 29% are not encouraging, but he currently leads the team with eight walks drawn, and has a solid 13% walk rate to go with an insane .314 ISO. As a reference point, Joey Gallo‘s highest single season ISO is .328 in 2017.
In thinking about how things will pan out in the regular season, Jose Martinez is certainly a great option to think about based on his performance in the majors, but there are a few things to think about when slating him as the starting right fielder over O’Neill. Primarily, Martinez is 31 and O’Neill is 24, which still makes an impact despite the Cardinals being in win now mode.
The primary reason for this is the 5 year extension that Paul Goldschmidt signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. This opens the window that the Redbirds can compete in, with Goldschmidt anchoring a young St. Louis Cardinals core for the next half decade.
Another important factor to consider is the emergence of Andrew Knizner. If Knizner can continue on his current career trajectory, he should be ready to serve as a major league catcher when Yadier Molina departs. While losing Yadi will have a tremendous impact on the team, having a talented young player like Knizner waiting in the wings will buffer that enough to keep the Cardinals in the mix in the post-Yadi era.
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So, getting back to the topic at hand, the Cardinals don’t have to be invested solely on the 2019 season. I have said it before and I will say it again: I respect the principle behind the Cardinals sticking with a player through tough times, but I just don’t think Dexter Fowler will play well enough to justify blocking O’Neill or benching arguably the most productive hitter on the Cardinals over the past two seasons.
So bringing it down to those two, if the Cardinals aren’t explicitly in win-now mode, then they can “risk” giving O’Neill time and at-bats. Additionally, the defensive deficiencies of Jose Martinez are something to be noted, and while O’Neill has his own struggles in the field, he has the room and ability to improve on them, which Martinez almost certainly doesn’t based on his age and athletic limitations.
O’Neill’s power ceiling is clear, and there is plenty of reason to believe that he will continue to improve the deficiencies in this game while providing a big power threat in the lower half of the lineup. While Jose Martinez would provide the most immediate impact, his defensive struggles at first surely makes the Cardinals front office
But it’s not just because of the situation with the roster that makes me believe in O’Neill’s emergence. There were definitely some pitches that made him look foolish, but in my opinion, he looked far better on an at-bat by at-bat basis than his 40% strikeout rate showed. Time will tell whether I am right, but if I am, Tyler O’Neill will be a force in 2019.
Right field will be an instrumental position this year towards the St. Louis Cardinals’ success in 2019 and beyond, and Tyler O’Neill has the most attractive ceiling at a young age and an already serviceable floor makes him the one to look for to emerge in the right field battle this year.