St. Louis Cardinals: Tyler O’Neill is baseball’s hidden gem

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Tyler O'Neill #27 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a solo home run during the seventh inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field on May 12, 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Tyler O'Neill #27 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a solo home run during the seventh inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field on May 12, 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /
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The finger injury has not impacted Cardinals outfielder Tyler O’Neill, who continues to look like baseball’s hidden gem.

When the St. Louis Cardinals placed Tyler O’Neill on the injured list with a fractured finger, he was not expected to miss much time. But questions persisted whether the injury would impact his swing and thus limit his power.

O’Neill has quickly quieted those concerns, hitting home runs in three straight games, including Saturday night’s game where he hit a two-run double (94.3 mph exit velocity) in the third inning and a solo home run (107.4 mph exit velocity) in the fifth inning.

O’Neill, 25, is hitting .272/.306/.623 with 11 home runs and 25 RBI in 114 at-bats this season. It’s unlikely he continues this current pace of home runs, of course, but he has proven himself to be the Cardinals’ best outfielder this season, ahead of even Dylan Carlson, while playing Gold Glove caliber defense.

The Cardinals look even smarter for not adding a premium outfielder via free agency or trade this winter. They bet on their internal options, especially O’Neill and Carlson, and believed that they would take a big jump with more playing time. They’ve been rewarded for it in a big way and with both on cheap salaries, could use the money saved to address the rotation and/or bullpen come the trade deadline.

How O’Neill continues to play will be one of the biggest storylines surrounding the Cardinals the rest of the season. But the finger injury appears to have had no impact on him and should only get better as the season progresses, with O’Neill utilizing a golf grip at the plate to protect his finger and maintain that hard-hitting ability that has made him so successful this season.

And the early indications are that, even with the broken finger and new grip, the Cardinals may have one of the games hidden gems hitting 30-40 homers for them this season. Pairing him with Arenado and Goldschmidt, the best corner infield duo in baseball, could put the team over the top when it comes to competing in the National League Central — and also with the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers.

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