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O'Neill showing off pop in roster spot battle

March 14, 2019

JUPITER, Fla. -- Tyler O'Neill has done just about everything a young player could be expected to do to make the Cardinals’ Major League roster. He’s already muscled up four home runs and a double in 35 at-bats, showing the power potential that makes him an intriguing option. He hit

JUPITER, Fla. -- Tyler O'Neill has done just about everything a young player could be expected to do to make the Cardinals’ Major League roster.

He’s already muscled up four home runs and a double in 35 at-bats, showing the power potential that makes him an intriguing option. He hit nine homers in 130 at-bats for the Cardinals last year as a rookie. O'Neill hit a long flyout to center field in his only at-bat of Thursday's 1-1 tie with the Mets.

“I feel good,” said the 23-year-old third-round pick of the Seattle Mariners in 2013. “Me and [hitting coach] Jeff [Albert] have been working tirelessly to just have a proper setup, be quiet in my setup, making sure that I’m seeing the ball and being able to get different pitches in the zone. So everything is working so far. We’re just going to keep doing our routine.”

But O’Neill is in a battle for a spot on the Opening Day roster with one of the deepest and most talented group of outfielders in the league. It’s a challenge he welcomes.

“It’s great,” O’Neill said of an outfield corps that includes Dexter Fowler, Marcell Ozuna and Harrison Bader, not to mention José Martínez, another extremely talented outfielder deserving of his own playing time. “You’ve got to love the talent that we have out here. We’re confident in every one of these guys and hopefully I can bring some extra of that to this role.”

But just what will that role be? It’s a question that is out of O’Neill’s hands. All he can do is continue to hit and hit for power, and then let the chips fall where they may.

“I’m just going to take care of my business and play my game,” O’Neill said. “I want nothing but success for Dex, for Ozo, for Bader. I want them to succeed and I want me to play as a possible fourth option to fill in for those guys when necessary. We’re all a team here and we all wish for the same thing, and that’s to win.”

Cutting down on his strikeout rate (40 percent in 2018) would be a big step in helping O’Neill find a spot on the Major League roster on Opening Day. And though he has struck out 12 times in 34 at-bats this spring, O’Neill has also drawn six walks. That’s more than any of his previous five Spring Training seasons. He walked only once last spring, his first with the Cardinals after coming over from Seattle in a July 21, 2017 trade for left-handed pitcher Marco Gonzales.

With the trend toward versatility in the Majors, perhaps adding another position could be helpful. But for now, O’Neill is content to play the outfield and provide some punch in the lineup.

“Not really,” O’Neill said of thinking about another position. “I haven’t picked up a first baseman’s mitt yet. Played a little third base in high school, so that would be a little leap for me. But maybe down the road, we’ll see. For now, we’re just going to roll with what we’ve got.”