It happened: the Cardinals jumped into the pool.
Friday, St. Louis traded left-handed pitcher Marco Gonzales to the Seattle Mariners for outfield prospect Tyler O’Neill. Though O’Neill doesn’t qualify as the impact bat the Cardinals desire, he’s an intriguing prospect whose upside may someday include such a profile.
O’Neill ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the Mariners system–for the Cardinals, he checks in at No. 4–and is currently the No. 75 prospect on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list, but has been listed much higher at times in 2017. In fact, he was listed at No. 29 on the list as recently as Friday morning, but was curiously dropped on the list following the trade. The site even listed O’Neill as No. 29 in their original headline for a story on the trade.
Not even. It was 36 in preseason, according his page, he was No. 36 in preseason. But see below, he was 29 like an hour ago. pic.twitter.com/PYyc90TyIG— Brenden Schaeffer (@bschaeffer12) July 21, 2017
Regardless of his official prospect ranking, O’Neill has been a touted offensive presence throughout his tour of the minor leagues. As a 20-year-old at Class-A Bakersfield back in 2015, O’Neill slugged 32 home runs and drove in 87. He moved up to Class-AA Jackson the next year, swatting 24 more homers.
Now 22, O’Neill’s start this season in Class-AAA Tacoma wasn’t quite as productive; he hit only .176 with three home runs for the month of April, and by June 22nd, he was still sitting on just six dingers.
In the month since, O’Neill’s customary power has returned–to the tune of 13 home runs and 30 RBIs–and the Cardinals decided to pounce on him, dealing from their pitching depth to acquire a piece with upside.
It cost St. Louis Marco Gonzales. He struggled in one start for St. Louis this season, but had compiled a 2.78 ERA over 12 starts and 74.1 innings in the minors. The Cardinals don’t have room in their rotation, and with the next crop of promising prospects–Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty, Luke Weaver–on the way, St. Louis had no plans to include Gonzales in its starting five any time soon.
Considering the big league bullpen is loaded with lefties in St. Louis, Gonzales wasn’t necessarily a fit there, either. So the Cardinals extracted the most value they could from an asset they didn't need to retain. The Mariners evidently like Gonzales as cheap starting pitching, under team control until 2023. Will he be able to produce at the level, or is a move to the bullpen in his future?
It’s no longer of concern to the Cardinals. They bailed on that question to welcome another: Can Tyler O’Neill succeed as a big-league outfielder?
His profile as a high slugging, high strikeout, low on-base guy bears striking resemblance on the surface to a current Cardinals outfielder–Randal Grichuk.
Might O’Neill have the ability to perform Grichuk’s strengths better than Grichuk? It’s possible. The Cardinals might think so, too; they dealt for O’Neill, adding to a glut of outfielders that already seemed problematic–the pieces fit even less easily now.
On paper, there’s Pham, Fowler and Piscotty in St. Louis. Then there’s Adolis Garcia, Harrison Bader, and now O’Neill (presumably) in Memphis. Even the Springfield outfield features intriguing prospects in Oscar Mercado, Magneuris Sierra and Randy Arozarena. Then there’s Grichuk, seemingly without a spot when everyone’s healthy.
Plenty of depth, but lacking a superstar. It’s an issue of which John Mozeliak and Mike Girsch are well aware. Power bats typically reside at first base, third base, or the outfield. The team has committed to Carpenter at first. Moving Gyorko could be an option, but he's held down third base adeptly this season. It would make sense for the Cardinals to clear the way in the outfield.
O’Neill might play a role for this team in the future–perhaps someday down the line, he develops into the type of bat that the Cardinals are desperate to add before the beginning of the 2018 season. But for now, his acquisition simply seems to indicate that more moves are on the way.
If one of those moves is bringing in an impact bat that can transform the look of the Cardinals lineup–fans will applaud it. More than likely, that move will have to wait until the offseason when more clubs make their top trade chips available. Adding Tyler O’Neill to an already-full house means someone will have to go.
One way or another, it probably happens soon.