TCN 2013 Cardinals Prospect #32: Mike O'Neill

Who is betting against the on-base machine after he tore up three leagues in 2012?

The Cardinal Nation/ Player Profile
(including links to full 2012 and career stats)

School: University of Southern California

2012 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
NR OF 2/12/1988 5-9 170 L L 2010 31st

Selected 2012 stats

PB 0.342 0.360 386 56 132 19 0 35 70 24 12 0.400 0.442 0.417 0.859
SPR 0.563 0.581 32 8 18 5 0 5 8 2 3 0.590 0.643 0.719 1.362
Total 0.359   418 64 150 24 0 40 78 26 15   0.458 0.440 0.899
AFL 0.368 0.439 68 12 25 2 0 7 11 11 2 0.417 0.463 0.397 0.860

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

CariocaCardinal (29): O'Neill is an on-base machine. His OBP of .458 in 2012 (and .463 in the Arizona Fall League) is one of the highest I have seen by any player at any level (Cardinals system or other). It is Barry Bonds territory without the benefit of the intentional walks.

O'Neill's OBP, which has risen each year as a pro, is largely the work of his batting average, which has risen every year. His walk rate of around 16% has been fairly consistent from year to year. While O'Neill's asset is his OBP, it is countered by a well below-average isolated SLG%, which has hovered around .100 each year.

There would seem to be a place in the majors for a light hitting OF who can fill in at all three positions (even if he plays none of them above average). If O'Neill can up his power while continuing to hit and draw walks, he could even become a possible starter some day.

In the short term though, I expect him to start 2013 in Springfield. Given the weak minor league OF depth of the Cardinals, he most likely will be in Memphis by the end of the season.

Message board community (41): O'Neill was only the 41st prospect on the Community list, lower than his rank here.

There is no mystery in what people see in O'Neill - his OBP of .458 in 520 PA's across Palm Beach and Springfield. A piece at Fangraphs reported that this was the best in all of the minor leagues last year. He got on at a .643 clip in Double-A, albeit in just 42 AB's. And there was no surprise at Surprise in the AFL, as his OBP there was .463.

There's also no mystery why that OBP hasn't moved him higher on the list. He has only hit one home run in 211 minor league games. And there are at least some reports that his defense is mostly going to be limited to left field. And he is going to turn 25 in February, so he has been old for his leagues.

It is tough to land a corner OF spot in the majors without power. It is tough to be a light hitting backup OF without an ability to cover center field. But maybe his defense will develop so he can back up in center. If so, he might be a very nice spare outfielder.

It will be interesting to see how he fares in more Double-A exposure this year. Given his AFL experience, I bet that he continues to hit. - Gagliano

Brian Walton (31): What a difference a year makes. In 2011, O'Neill seemed to be just another organizational player, an undersized 31st-rounder drafted the year before from a major college, USC. During that age 23 season, he was shuffled back and forth between short-season Batavia and Class-A Quad Cities.

Then in 2012, a surprising thing happened. Despite moving up to a pitcher's league, the A-Advanced Florida State League, O'Neill was a runaway winner of the batting and OBP titles and was the organization's Player of the Month in both July and August. It seemed to come from nowhere. This time last winter, O'Neill did not receive a single vote in our top 40 prospect process.

Normally, I would pick at the BABIP of a player with numbers like O'Neill's, casting doubt about the sustainability of his success. In this case, however, we have seen consistent performance over time with batting average and BABIP surprisingly close.

Watching O'Neill at the plate helps explains this as well as his lack of power. With a short, compact swing, the left-handed hitter is exceptionally proficient at taking the ball up the middle or the other way more often than not. He rarely chases balls outside the zone, as confirmed by his 2012 strikeout rate of just 7.6 percent.

While O'Neill is a smart player, he does not possess the wheels to enhance his on-base prowess. This season, he was just 17 of 30 in stolen base attempts (56.7%) across his three stops. Listed at 5-foot-9, O'Neill is not a prototypical centerfielder, more likely profiled as a left fielder.

At this point, I think we pretty much know what we have in O'Neill. There are reasons one can be skeptical about his major league future, yet this is a player who clearly understands his strengths and exploits them better than the vast majority of his peers. Until pitchers figure out how to consistently get him out, it is hard to bet against a man like that.

Our 2013 top 40 countdown continues: To see the list of top Cardinals prospects announced to date and remaining article schedule, click here. You can also read each of the voters' philosophies in making their selections.

There's more! Monthly and quarterly subscribers who upgrade to our annual pass will receive in the spring the 2013 FOX Sports NEXT Prospects Guide, a $4.95 value, for FREE. The perfect hardcopy companion to "40 Days" includes the top prospects from all 30 MLB organizations and much more. We author the Cardinals section of the guide as always.

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