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O'Neill ready for Classic challenge

Mariners' outfield prospect leaves camp to join Team Canada
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

PEORIA, Ariz. -- A lot of young baseball players invited to their first Major League camp might hesitate to interrupt that opportunity to showcase their talents to the bosses and instead spend a week or two competing in the World Baseball Classic.

But Mariners outfielder Tyler O'Neill certainly doesn't lack confidence, nor did he have to think twice when invited to play for his native Canada in the upcoming Classic. O'Neill, the Mariners' No. 2 prospect per MLBPipeline.com, left camp Sunday to fly to Dunedin, Fla., where his team will train for a few days before opening play Thursday in Miami against a powerhouse Dominican Republic squad loaded with MLB veterans.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- A lot of young baseball players invited to their first Major League camp might hesitate to interrupt that opportunity to showcase their talents to the bosses and instead spend a week or two competing in the World Baseball Classic.

But Mariners outfielder Tyler O'Neill certainly doesn't lack confidence, nor did he have to think twice when invited to play for his native Canada in the upcoming Classic. O'Neill, the Mariners' No. 2 prospect per MLBPipeline.com, left camp Sunday to fly to Dunedin, Fla., where his team will train for a few days before opening play Thursday in Miami against a powerhouse Dominican Republic squad loaded with MLB veterans.

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"It'll be a good change of pace, obviously, playing for Canada," said the 21-year-old from Burnaby, B.C. "There's a lot of responsibility. It's a big burden that I have to carry. But I'm ready for it and I'm going to do my best over there."

O'Neill, the Southern League player of the year last season for Double-A Jackson, has hit .200 (3-for-15) with three doubles, three walks and six strikeouts in 18 plate appearances in eight Cactus League games.

After putting up a .293/.374/.508 line with 24 homers and 102 RBIs in 130 games last year for Jackson, the powerfully built outfielder acknowledges there's an adjustment seeing higher-level pitching.

"A little bit," he said. "Obviously catchers and pitchers know how to come at you. They attack you a little different up here. Stuff is a little better; they can spot up a little better as opposed to Double-A. It's just raising my competitive level to be the best I can be, and I'll go from there."

Manager Scott Servais said O'Neill has carried himself well in his initial time among big leaguers.

"More than anything is how he handles himself in the clubhouse," Servais said. "Tyler is a very confident young man, sometimes it can come off the wrong way. But he's been great. He's handled everything that we've thrown at him in the meetings and stuff. He's obviously a very good and talented player.

"It's only a matter of time before he gets a chance to impact us in Seattle. It could be sooner rather than later. We'll see. But the future is certainly bright for him."

O'Neill figures to open this season in Triple-A Tacoma, but he's clearly knocking on the big league door. And getting his first experiences at Major League camp has only whetted his appetite.

"It's been great. I'm loving it on this side of the clubhouse," he said. "It's definitely a first taste of what the big league life is about for me. I love it. I'm just going to try to get there as soon as possible and help the boys win."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast.

Seattle Mariners, Canada, Tyler O'Neill