Scouting Report: OF, Michael O'Neill

The Yankees selected outfielder Michael O'Neill in the third round of the 2013 MLB Draft out of the University of Michigan. Originally drafted by the Yankees out of high school back in 2010 and the nephew of former Yankee great Paul O'Neill, he bounced back from a lackluster pro debut season in 2013 with a very solid showing in his first full season last year.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Michael O'Neill
Position: Outfield
DOB: June 12, 1992
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 195
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

"I thought I had a very productive year especially after kind of a rough start in Staten Island [the year before]," he said. "I wanted to prove to myself and to the Yankees that I was good enough and that the first year was just a fluke and growing pains. I thought the first half of the season was obviously slower than I would have liked to have start but if you look at my numbers overall I thought it was a good year overall."

He didn't have the greatest showing making the transition to the professional level in Staten Island in 2013, hitting just .219 with a whopping 93 strikeouts in just 256 at-bats, but bounced back in a big way with a .256, ten home run, 42-stolen base season with the Charleston RiverDogs this past season. Even a year later he still doesn't know what really happened in 2013.

"I don't know," he admitted. "Honestly I tried to put it behind me. I didn't really reflect on the year. I just tried to take the offseason last year and do what I could to get better.

"It's so much different from college. You play every day and you travel overnight and in college you play two or four days a week and travel on airplanes. It was definitely something to get used to."

The adjustment from college ball to the professional level is different for everyone. Not only are there the subtle differences in playing atmospheres and conditions, but there are real mechanical adjustments needed to be made too as well as changes in approach. O'Neill found that out rather quickly and it took him not only one an entire debut season to figure it out but even part of his first full season too.

He hit just .235 in the first half of the season with the RiverDogs but finally began making the adjustment by the All Star break and wound up hitting a more respectable .275 in the second half.

"It was an approach deal," he said. "The manager moved me up into the leadoff slot and he said 'I don't really want you to hit like a leadoff hitter but the only thing I want you do like a leadoff hitter is see some more pitches'.

"It was just one of those things where I was getting myself out a lot [initially]. Pitchers weren't really getting me out, I was just impatient, swinging earlier in the count, and after that talk I really focused on hitting and swinging at pitches that I wanted to swing at instead of just swinging at strikes or swinging at borderline pitches.

"That was the biggest thing in the second half that really helped me the most, swinging at pitches that I wanted to swing at and not what pitches the count dictated."

Even before that adjustment, however, there was a fundamental change to his game that allowed the refined approach to have even an even greater chance for success. He tweaked his stance in the offseason and made some tangible adjustments to his swing.

"I think some of the mechanical adjustments that I made in my first offseason with a couple of hitting coaches -- my balance throughout my swing wasn't that good my first year which made me susceptible to swinging at breaking balls in the dirt and chasing a lot of pitches," he said. "Once I got that balance issue worked out I was just in a much better position to hit overall.

"So I think that was a big key going into the season and then obviously cleaning up that approach was another very big part of last year's season. I don't think one was more important than the other. I think by getting in a better position to hit with my balance along with a better approach in my second season, those two things led to a more successful year at the plate."

Part of that better success was going from not hitting a home run in 64 games with the Staten Island Yankees in his debut season to clubbing ten home runs with the RiverDogs this past season. For O'Neill, however, his power surge didn't really come as a surprise.

"No not really. It honestly surprised me my first year that I didn't hit one home run. I've always had sneaky power. I don't think I'd ever hit 25 or 30 home runs but it didn't surprise me that I hit ten home runs because I hit for some power in college, I hit for some power in the summer leagues with the wood bats throughout my college career. It surprised me more that in my first year I didn't hit any."

He had made a lot of noticeable changes to his game in a rather short period of time and the better results show it. While he would still like to cut down on the still rather high number of strikeouts [he struck out 133 times last season] and put the ball in play more, he also realizes that even that part of his game is trending in the right direction [he struck out just 57 times in the second half compared to 76 times in the first half].

There hasn't been one specific change to his game that has his game beginning to peak. Part of it is the better balance at the plate, part of it is a more mature approach to hitting the pitches he wants to hit, and part of it is learning to not let his emotions get the best of him on the field too.

"I honestly try not to because of my uncle," he admitted. "One thing, he was really hard on himself. I try not to but I am emotional, that's who I am. I play the game with emotion.

"I try not to let my emotions get the best of me but sometimes they do take over, especially when I'm struggling. The big thing is constantly trying to reduce those [negative] thoughts. Sometimes though when you're struggling they creep into your head.."

As far as his game has come in a relatively short period of time, he also acknowledges there is still plenty of work to be done and that excites him, knowing that his full potential has yet to be tapped.

"I think there's a lot of things to improve on. You can improve on every aspect of the game. I have goals to improve on things defensively, offensively, my base running. If I can hone my approach down to -- I know what I need to do but just doing it -- if I stick to the approach that I've been taught and talked about I think a lot of those things will just naturally iron themselves out.

"If I swing at the pitches that I want to swing at the strikeouts will go down. If I take the pitches I need to take the walks will go up.

"I honestly don't think I've reached my full potential. This will be my third year but it's really only my second full season [coming up]. Going into my second full season I know exactly what I need to do to be successful. I think I can definitely get better," he concluded.

Year

Team

AVG

AB

2B

HR

RBI

R

SB

BB

SO

OBP

SLG

2014 Charleston .256 489 23 10 57 80 42 42 133 .333 .384
2013 Staten Island .219 256 17 0 14 26 9 14 93 .282 .293


Batting and Power. O'Neill is a much more patient hitter than his numbers would suggest and it is part of the reason why he strikes out a bit more than most. He is very selective earlier in counts and as he has matured he is beginning to learn not to let good pitches get by him in the name of seeing more pitches. While he tends to be a bit more of a pull-hitter than some, he does has the ability to use the whole field more and it showed in his second half success last season. He is, however, susceptible to better breaking pitches so strikeouts will always be a bit of a concern but he is getting better at laying off of them. He has moderate home run power too numbers-wise but he absolutely doesn't get cheated when he connects, hitting some real bombs, and it does suggest there could be average long-term power potential.

Base Running and Speed. An above average, borderline plus runner, O'Neill can be an impact base runner, especially when combining it with his natural aggressiveness and fiery competitive nature. He stole 42 bases this past season and it's really just scratching the surface of his running potential.

Defense. Defensively he can handle all three outfield positions in more than serviceable fashion. He does pale in comparison to some of the elite defensive centerfielders but he can certainly fill in admirably there if called upon, grading out as an average centerfielder, and range-wise he's a plus defender in either corner spot. He also shows above average arm strength and his very accurate with his throws.

Projection. With outfield defensive versatility, impact running abilities, and burgeoning average big league power, O'Neill has all the tools to eventually project as a potential big league reserve outfielder someday. It is going to require further refining his overall hitting ability, most notably cutting down on the strikeouts and using the whole field more consistently, but should that happen and he become a better overall hitter there is even some long-term potential as an everyday big league outfielder. There is a lot of work to be done to get to that point but it is not out of the realm of possibility.

ETA. N/A. O'Neill has to first prove he can sustain his recent success and keep moving forward as an everyday starting outfielder. He's ticketed for high-A Tampa this coming season. Another solid showing there, however, one more like the second half he had in 2014, and a potential call-up to Double-A late in the season would not be out of the question.


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