TCN 2014 Cardinals Prospect #24: Mike O'Neill

Who is betting against the on-base machine after he continues to perform at every level?

The Cardinal Nation/ Player Profile
(including links to full 2013 and career stats)

School: University of Southern California

2013 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
32 OF 2/12/1988 5-9 170 L L 2010 31st

Selected 2013 stats

Spr 0.320 0.339 359 66 115 13 2 35 71 26 18 0.376 0.431 0.384 0.815
Mem 0.295 0.327 112 16 33 3 0 3 20 11 1 0.348 0.402 0.321 0.723
Total 0.314   471 82 148 16 2 38 91 37 19   0.424 0.369 0.793

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (19): The community grew fond of O'Neill's very unique skill-set by voting him onto their list at #19. Last year, he was placed as the community's 41st prospect.

If you are a sabermetric enthusiast, than you may love one of the peskiest little hitters I've seen since David Eckstein. All that O'Neill has done since he was drafted has been to get on base.

His career minor league numbers are astonishing. Despite having absolutely zero power from his feisty bat, O'Neill's career minor league line is.328/.435/.405 in 1,414 plate appearances. He has amassed a career minor league OPS of .840 but has hit only three home runs.

If you are asking yourself, ‘How is that possible?,' here is how. It is because O'Neill grinds out at bats, making the pitchers use a lot of energy, getting in their heads by fouling off pitch after pitch. That is what has earned him praise from Memphis manager Pop Warner, who calls him "a gnat up at the plate".

Not only is O'Neill a highly-disciplined hitter, he also is a very smart hitter who can put the ball in play consistently. He can slap the pitch the other way, go up the middle, or yank it down the right-field line. He knows how to use foul-line to foul-line to full effect and may not have a hole at all in his swing.

Defensively, O'Neill is limited to left-field given his athletic ability. That will likely limit him to being a fifth outfielder/pinch hitter type. Once he gets to the majors, it will be an interesting test to see if his plus eye can play as well because big league pitchers will have no fear of challenging him with strikes, potentially taking away his biggest asset.

Ultimately, the numbers O'Neill has posted thus far cannot be ignored and it was clearly noticed when the Cardinals added him to the 40-man roster this fall. - DTFlush234

Brian Walton (30): What a difference a year makes. After O'Neill was a runaway winner of the batting and OBP titles in the A-Advanced Florida State League and was the organization's Player of the Month in both July and August of 2012, I ranked O'Neill much more aggressively than the community. This year, I kept O'Neill around the same spot in my rankings while the community moved him into their top 20.

While I can certainly see O'Neill making the majors, I am struggling with outlining a scenario in which he could hold down a starting job. Just getting there would still be a tremendous and admirable feat, but I see others with the potential of a longer runway – and in some cases, more risk.

O'Neill has settled into a very comfortable pattern at the plate over the past two seasons and has yet to be fully exposed. In 2013, he was second in the entire system in batting average and led the second-best player in on-base percentage by a whopping 45 points!

There is nothing unusual in O'Neill's BABIP that might cast doubt about the sustainability of his success. We have seen consistent performance over multiple seasons with batting average and BABIP surprisingly close.

With a short, compact swing, the left-handed hitter is exceptionally proficient at taking the ball up the middle and going the other way. He rarely chases balls outside the zone, showing amazing plate discipline. His 2013 strikeout rate of just 7.9 percent (second-best in the system) compares very favorably to his 7.6 percent mark the year before.

One limitation of O'Neill's game was his wheels. He focused on it in 2013 and showed improvement, raising his 2012 stolen base success rate of 56.7 percent (17 of 30) up to 82.6 percent (19 of 23). Listed at 5-foot-9, O'Neill is not a prototypical burner as a centerfielder, more profiled as a left fielder.

By now, we 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 prove they can consistently get him out, it is hard to bet against him.

Our 2014 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 the voters' philosophies in making their selections.

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