No AAA affiliated franchise has things easy. Almost without fail, as soon as someone starts to really put things together, the parent club decides that they have a need for that individual, and he magically disappears from the AAA team’s roster.
In Memphis, the Cardinals’ AAA affiliate, that situation might be less volatile than in some other cities. With a mostly static roster, the Cards have found it relatively easy to leave their hot prospects in their minor league abodes, honing their various crafts.
Such has been the situation for one Tyler Alan O’Neill. Once upon a time, Tyler O’Neill was a third-round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners, becoming a Cardinal almost exactly two years ago today as the result of a July 21, 2017 trade. Since then, he has had 216 at bats in St Louis, and 573 in Memphis. He came north with the parent club this year, but, with playing time hard to come by, was returned to Memphis when Luke Gregerson was ready to come off the injured list.
And there Tyler stayed. With his rookie status already exceeded, O’Neill was no longer listed among the Cardinal prospects. So while Cardinal Nation followed the progress of the Nolan Gorman’s and the Randy Arozarena’s with considerable focus, Tyler O’Neill labored in relative anonymity.
Memphis, however, was more than happy to have him. In about a year’s worth of at bats (573) Tyler has delivered 49 home runs for Memphis. Add the 14 he’s now hit in the show, and, in just under two years in the organization, Tyler O’Neill has accounted for 63 home runs. He has averaged one for every 11.7 at bats in AAA Memphis.
Who knows how long he might have remained there. But about 14 games ago, Marcell Ozuna fractured some fingers while on the base paths and the big league birds were in need of an outfielder. The thinking was that – as before – once Ozuna was pronounced fit, Tyler would be returned to his minor league venue.
Those plans may now be on permanent hold.
Yesterday afternoon, Tyler O’Neill drilled his fourth home run of the recent home stand and was a significant contributor to the Cards 6-5 victory over Pittsburgh (box score). O’Neill was 7 for 12 against Pittsburgh (.583) with three of the hits being home runs. He drove in 6 runs in the 3 games, and slugged 1.333. The win was St Louis’ fourth in the last 5 games of the home stand. Tyler hit .500 over the 5 games (10 for 20) and slugged 1.2000 (2 doubles, 4 home runs), while driving in 11.
O’Neill has now hit safely in 8 straight starts, hitting .438 during the streak (14 for 32), and slugging .875. For the month of July, Tyler O’Neill is carrying a .400 batting average (16 for 40) and a slugging percentage of an even 1.000.
It’s a very small sample size, I grant you. But if this keeps up, Tyler O’Neill will not be going back to Memphis. If this keeps up, Tyler O’Neill will not be going back to the bench when Ozuna comes back. Someone else will lose those at bats.
In baseball, if you hit, you play. If you hit a lot, you play a lot.
By the numbers, the Tyler O’Neill of July is very unlike the O’Neill we’ve seen here before. If anything, his aggressiveness has increased. Last year, he swung at 52.3% of the pitches thrown his way. In his first 48 plate appearances this year, he swung at 52.4%. In his 42 July plate appearances, O’Neill has chased after 58.3%. Over the last 5 games, Tyler has swung at 50 of 79 pitches thrown his way – a super-aggressive 63.3%.
This aggression is even more pronounced on the first pitch. Last year, Tyler went after the first pitch 36.6% of the time, and 37.5% during the early part of this year – both aggressive numbers. He has offered at the first pitch 52.4% of the time so far this month. He went after 8 of 12 (66.7%) against the Pirates.
But, even though he is swinging more often, he is making contact as never before. As a rookie in 2018, O’Neill missed on 44.3% of his swings. He was up to an amazing 50.5% of his swings through his first 48 plate appearances of 2019.
In July, Tyler is missing on just 28.6% (team average is 23.8% for the year). In 31 swings against the Pirates, O’Neill missed the ball just 4 times (12.9%).
Thirty-one swings is far too few to prove anything definitively. But if, indeed, Tyler O’Neill is making serious progress on connecting when he swings, then he will definitely not be going back to Memphis.
Little Other Offense
In winning two of three from Pittsburgh, the Cardinal offense was led, principally by O’Neill and Paul Goldschmidt. Together, they drove in 10 of the 14 runs the Cards scored in the series. After them, there weren’t an awful lot of contributors, as the team finished the series with just 20 hits and a .220 batting average. There are a handful of Cardinals who are still trying to turn things around.
Kudos to the Rotation
Aside from Tyler O’Neill, the heroes of the Pittsburgh series were the arms of the rotation. Daniel Ponce de Leon’s short start on Wednesday broke a string of six consecutive quality starts. Even with that, the rotation contributed 19.2 innings against the Pirates with a 2.29 ERA. They walked just 5 (2 of those intentionally) and allowed just one home run.
In winning 4 of the last 5, St Louis has done so behind a rotation that has carved out a 1.93 ERA and a .222/.295/.299 batting line against.
Monday’s starter, Miles Mikolas set the tone for the series – not just in effectiveness (he threw a complete game shutout) but also in style. Of the 32 batters to face him, 29 hit the ball in play, with 20 of the 29 (69%) hitting it on the ground. Miles threw just 3.13 pitches per batter faced (leading to just 11.11 pitches per inning) while throwing 73% of his pitches for strikes.
For the series, the Cards finished up getting ground balls 57.7% of the time, throwing just 3.58 pitches per batter (14.04 per inning), and throwing strikes 66.5% of the time.
For the season, Miles has thrown 1099 of his 1658 pitches for strikes. His 66.3% ratio is the highest of any Cardinal pitcher who has thrown at least 700 pitches.
Tuesday’s starter, Jack Flaherty, came fairly close to losing his second consecutive 1-0 game. He avoided the fate by driving in his own run with a double to earn himself a no decision.
The 0-1 record aside, Jack has been very good his last two times out – allowing 2 runs in 14 innings. Three starts into the month of July, Jack holds a 2.89 ERA and a .182 batting average against.
Ending a fabulous run of performances, during which he gave just 1 run over 12 innings, Carlos Martinez was touched for runs in both of the last two games pitching in the closer’s role. He gave a total of 3 runs in 2 innings, earning a loss and a scuffling save.
Even though Carlos’ pitches were up more than usual, he still had batters pounding the ball into the turf. Of the 10 who put the ball in play against him, 7 hit the ball on the ground. For the season, Carlos’ 65.0% ground ball rate is second on the team only to Jordan Hicks (67.2%).
Paul Goldschmidt’s three-run homer on Wednesday proved to be the game-winning RBIs. Paul now has 5 GWHs on the season, ranking him third on the team behind Marcell Ozuna (9) and Paul DeJong (6).
Before the Goldschmidt home run, St Louis went into the seventh inning trailing 4-3. It was the first time in seven games that they trailed after six innings. On July 6, in San Francisco they trailed 5-1 after six on their way to an 8-4 loss (box score).
All of the Cards’ last four series have gone to rubber games – with St Louis winning three of those. They are now 5-5 in rubber games on the season.
On Tuesday night, the Cards eclipsed the two million mark in home attendance. With 128,928 attending the three-game set against the Pirates, St Louis now sits at 2,053,573 for the season – an average of 42,782.8 per home game.