St. Louis Cardinals: This version of Tyler O’Neill is a cleanup hitter

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 01: Tyler O'Neill #41 of the St Louis Cardinals bats against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on September 1, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Cardinals defeated the Reds 16-2. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 01: Tyler O'Neill #41 of the St Louis Cardinals bats against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on September 1, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Cardinals defeated the Reds 16-2. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /
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One lineup that St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Shildt has used features a hole in the cleanup spot. This version of O’Neill is the perfect fit.

With the new addition of Nolan Arenado to the St. Louis Cardinals lineup, manager Mike Shildt has the best lineup he’s had since he became manager. Now with two big pieces in the middle of the lineup, there are a couple of different combinations for what could work best.

Recently, Mike Shildt has tried a lineup that featured Tommy Edman at leadoff, then Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado following him. Personally, I love this lineup because Goldy’s on-base skill puts him on-base ahead of Arenado and the team’s two best hitters will bat in the first inning.

While both of these things are great, the question then becomes who backs up the first three batters at cleanup. The regular who has gotten the most looks in the spot so far this spring has easily been Paul DeJong.

While the spring has been a rough time for DeJong (2-23 batting), it is just spring training and in the regular season, he’s shown in stretches that batting cleanup isn’t over his head. However, the hottest bat on the Cardinals this spring is also looking like a player who deserves an opportunity.

In case you haven’t noticed, Tyler O’Neill is out of this world right now at the plate.

Coming into spring as a player fighting for his job in left field, O’Neill is 12-24 with five extra-base hits and eight RBI with only six strikeouts. In what is a massively important year for O’Neill, he’s starting off on the right foot.

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As someone who’s been a fan of O’Neill’s for a while now, it’s fantastic to see what he looks like at the plate right now.

In the three years since his debut in 2018, O’Neill has still yet to reach 500 major league at-bats. While 2020 was his largest percentage playing time, compared to possible games to play, it was his worst year in the box score. After his .173/.261/.360 slash line in 50 games, many fans were ready to dump the Canadian even after he won the National League Gold Glove in left field.

However, digging deeper into the sample, O’Neill made huge strides at the plate in terms of approach. He was able to drop his strikeout rate by about 8% while raising his walk rate by 3%. When he did chase in 2020 (which was 10% better than his 2019 chase rate), he made contact 13% more of the time.

Put this together and you have a player who is taking much more mature at-bats at the plate, he just wasn’t getting results. So far this spring, the results from this approach have come early and often.

To play devil’s advocate here, we are still just talking about 24 at-bats for O’Neill. During the regular season, 24 at-bats are nothing more than a good week at the plate. This could all just be a flash in the pan.

However, there is no denying that O’Neill has secured his left field spot and if Opening Day was tomorrow, he’d be an easy pick for cleanup if Goldy is batting second.

Next. Salvador Perez speaks about what Molina has meant to him. dark

Nobody is giving Tyler O’Neill a trip to the All-Star game right now, but he really looks good at the plate. At just 25, this could be the breakout that fans have been waiting for from O’Neill since his debut and if he could become a masher in the middle of the lineup, the Cardinals will look a whole lot better.

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