Tyler O’Neill started the season ice cold for the St. Louis Cardinals before getting injured. Since his return, he’s been on fire though.
As is the case with many other outfielders on the St. Louis Cardinals, 2020 is a big “prove it” year. For Tyler O’Neill, he came in ahead of the other outfielders on the bubble because of his Gold Glove year in 2020 in left field. However, that didn’t mean he had nothing to prove.
This spring, O’Neill left no doubt for who the left fielder should be, slashing .356/.383/.556. Fans were hopping on board. However, the start of the season looked like an older version of Tyler O’Neill.
Through the first eight games of the year, O’Neill had just four hits in 28 at-bats. He had one homer, but that came on Opening Day. He looked awful at the plate, and things only got worse when he hurt his groin running out a grounder to first base. During the time O’Neill was on the IL after the injury, the outfield wasn’t cutting it. Whether it was Austin Dean, Justin Williams, or one of the other configurations the Cardinals ran out there, it wasn’t good.
The Cardinals needed O’Neill’s glove, and they needed him to be some semblance of the player he showed he could be in spring training.
Since his return from the 10-day IL, O’Neill has been exactly that.
In 10 starts since April 23, O’Neill is slashing .359/.375/.718 with four homers and two doubles over that time. He’s gotten back to his usual stellar defense in left, and has been a big part of the Cardinals’ 9-2 record since his return. From what I have personally seen from O’Neill since his return, it looks like it’s been his pitch recognition that has changed the most.
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At the beginning of the year, he was caught reaching on breaking balls and was being blown away by fastballs up in the zone. Almost every pitcher was attacking him the same way. However, being able to lay off the outside breaking balls forces pitchers out of that attack plan, making them throw him something in the zone.
To be clear, O’Neill will not have an OPS over 1.000 for the rest of the season, but his current season average and OPS of .269 and .827 might not be a bad goal to aim for. O’Neill hitting .270 might be a bit much to ask, but an OPS over .800 would be awesome and a good step towards realizing his potential on the diamond.
The biggest thing to nitpick with O’Neill’s sample since his return has been his walk rate. In his 40 plate appearances, he’s walked just once. He’s also struck out only nine times, but a 2.5% walk rate and 22.5% strikeout rate doesn’t look sustainable. These two really just speak to the way that O’Neill has been attacking at the plate recently.
O’Neill is due for some regression, but it has been great to see him rekindle the way he looked in spring training.