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Is Tyler O’Neill for Real?

Updated: Mar 20, 2021

Tyler O’Neill is ready to prove he belongs. (Photo by Jeff Roberson/AP)

Now and again, you hear a person say something that makes you believe it. It’s not so much in what they say but rather how they say it. You can’t explain why or how, but the words penetrate you in a way you didn’t expect. Such was the case between myself and Tyler O’Neill.

I can remember a brief encounter with O’Neill before the 2020 season. He spoke about his troubles at the plate and how he needed to do better. I noted his impressive minor league numbers and asked if maybe he was pressing a bit to try and impress. “Yeah, maybe a little,” was his response. Then came the words that hit me in a way that made me believe in him.

“I know I have what it takes to be successful in this league.”

That was it. Those were the words. That one sentence changed my outlook on Tyler completely. Now, every player has to believe in themselves to do well. It would be foolish for a guy not to say he thought he could be successful. But it wasn’t what O’Neill said. It was how he said it.

Tyler said it in a way that was so matter-of-fact that you couldn’t dispute it. The oddest thing about how he said it, though, was that he wasn’t the least bit cocky or arrogant. If there was ever a way to humbly say, “Look, I got this,” then this was it.

I walked away from the press room thinking to myself, “Okay, he can be successful in this league.” I somehow knew this to be a fact. The Cardinals know it too. It’s the reason they traded away former first-round pick Marco Gonzales to get him. It’s why I said in an interview later that day that I believed O’Neill could more than replace Marcell Ozuna in left field.

O’Neill’s calling card has always been his power. That part of his game has never been in question. Neither has his athleticism. He’s big, he’s fast, and he has biceps as big around as my waist. He’s Paul Bunyan with a bat. Tyler O’Neill’s most significant struggle has been finding consistency at the plate. If Spring Training stats have any merit at all, then it looks like he’s found it.

Most people don’t put much stock in spring stats, but they mean a lot for players with something to prove to head into Opening Day. That’s where O’Neill finds himself. He’s out to prove that he meant exactly what he said. He’s doing just that.

I have seen a lot of Tyler O’Neill’s at-bats since he came into the league. Something has changed. He’s making better decisions at the plate. He recognizes pitches in a way he never did before. I’ve watched this spring as he has laid off pitches he would have otherwise swung at in recent years. That’s huge, not just for him but for the team as well.

Some might dismiss it as just spring training against inferior competition. That’s not exactly the case. O’Neill has been starting against top-tier competition. He’s faced the same guys that Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado have faced, and he’s killing it. So far this spring, O’Neill leads the team in OPS (1.315), AVG (.481), HR (2), RBI (8), Hits (13), and Doubles (3). Consider also that his six strikeouts so far is only one more than Goldschmidt’s five. Tyler sees the ball exceptionally well, and the proof is in the pudding.

This is a small sample size, to be sure. However, what we are seeing is what Tyler knew he was all along. It’s what the Cardinals thought they had when they traded for him. And as for me, I’m more convinced than ever that what Tyler told me is the real deal. This guy can play.

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