St. Louis Cardinals: Could Tyler O’Neill have a breakout season in 2020?
If the St. Louis Cardinals give Tyler O’Neill the right opportunity this year, we could see the 24-year old outfielder have a big breakout season.
As the 2020 Major League Baseball season remains a question mark, the St. Louis Cardinals have a big question mark of their own: the outfield. Especially after the offseason departure of Marcell Ozuna, there is a lot of uncertainty regarding that young and exciting core.
However, it was clear when the Cardinals let Ozuna walk that the front office had supreme confidence in the young players that they have produced through the farm system, specifically Tyler O’Neill.
But unlike the front office, many Cardinals fans remain low on their expectations for the 24-year-old slugger, mainly because of his plate discipline and a high strikeout rate in years past.
I am here to make a case as to why Cardinal Nation should be optimistic when it comes to O’Neill, and what we could expect from him in 2020 (assuming there is a season).
To start, I am not going to argue the fact that O’Neill struggled at the plate in 2019. In 161 plate appearances, O’Neill hit for a .261/.311/.411 slash line with a disastrous strikeout rate of 35.1% which was even an improvement from his 40.1% rate in 2018. The righty had a below-average 91 wRC+ and .308 wOBA while hitting just five homers and driving in 16 RBI.
However, a lot of that has to do with opportunities and just never really being able to find a groove. That is my main argument here. Let’s take a more in-depth look at 2019 to support this claim, specifically in the month of July.
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Why July? Well, Ozuna missed the entire month of July with a hand injury, so this was a stretch of the season where we saw a lot of action from Tyler O’Neill who replaced Ozuna as the left fielder during that stretch.
In 88 plate appearances, O’Neill had an impressive .301/.341/.482 slash line to go along with an .803 OPS. He smashed four homers and drove in 12 while also bringing his K% down a whole 10% to 25%. And for my fellow sabermetric junkies, he also posted a 116 wRC+, .347 wOBA, and 2.0 wRAA, which are all career highs.
A month in which O’Neill became the everyday left fielder, which is likely his role this season, he posted the best numbers of his career and helped spark a second-half surge for the eventual division champions. The Cardinals went 16-9 that month and O’Neill had a big role in the team’s success.
The likelihood of there being a shortened season this year certainly won’t help, though. Whether we end up seeing a 50-game regular season, or even an 82-game regular season, there is a lot less room for error. A stretch of a couple of bad weeks and the outlook of the entire season could change for your club.
With Spring Training cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic and splitting time in Memphis last year, it may take O’Neill some time to adapt to major league pitching again. That is just an unfortunate hypothetical that players all around the league could struggle with to open up the season.
Sure, success is never guaranteed, but with O’Neill expecting to have a much bigger role in the 2020 season with more at-bats and a better chance to find his groove at the plate, don’t be surprised if we see the young outfielder have a breakout season much of like what we saw from him in July of 2019.