After offseason of change, O'Neill ready to empty the tank

February 27th, 2024

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- New Red Sox outfielder is a sculpted weightlifter and he’s not going to apologize for it. Remember his background. His father Terry was named Mr. Canada in 1975, an honor given to the country’s best body builder.

Unlike his father back in the day, O’Neill gets paid to play baseball, not win weightlifting competitions.

And over the last couple of years, as his body started to break down, O’Neill realized something had to change with his routine. Those changes just might lead to the right-handed hitter becoming one of the best bounce-back stories in the Majors this season.

“You live and you learn,” said O’Neill. “I can't get away from the weight room. It's who I am. It's my identity. I need to be in there. It gets me right. It gets me going.”


“As you get a little older, things have to be modified,” O’Neill said. “You can’t just go in there and lift heavy anymore like I used to. I have a good routine that gets me in a good alignment. It gets me ready for the day every day now."

In 2022, O’Neill was sidelined with a barrage of injuries (right shoulder impingement, right hamstring strain, left hamstring strain) that necessitated three separate stints on the injured list.

The biggest issue for O’Neill last season was a troublesome back that led to a stint on the 60-day injured list.

O’Neill didn’t need to be hit over the head to realize what the issue was. The heavy weights he had always dominated were taking a toll and jeopardizing his livelihood.

This past winter, one in which he was traded from the Cardinals to the Red Sox in December, O’Neill took matters into his own hands in his quest to return to the dynamic player he was in 2021, when he finished eighth in the National League’s MVP Award voting.

“I train with a lot of range of motion exercises and I do plyometric training and force creation dynamic stuff, and this activates my fast twitch,” said the 28-year-old O’Neill.

But O’Neill must have had those fast-twitch muscles working at a high level during that terrific ’21 season, right?

“Yeah, I used to be able to get that fast twitch activation with heavy weights, but you have to recruit every muscle fiber that you have,” O’Neill said. “But obviously it takes a negative toll on your joints, especially as you get a little older. I've had to modify things that I do in the weight room, but I feel like there's a really good balance there. And I feel like I’m in really good shape right now.”

This spring, O’Neill has had a clear purpose to his work day.

“Just more free weight rotational stuff,” said O’Neill. “Box jumps, plyometric jumping, medicine ball throws. Just pretty much everything. My body is showing it for sure.”

In O’Neill’s first game of the spring on Sunday, he went sliding into the corner in left field at JetBlue Park for a sweet catch.

The Red Sox play their Grapefruit League games at a venue that mimics the unique outfield dimensions of Fenway Park. At least on days the Red Sox are at home, manager Alex Cora has O’Neill playing almost exclusively in left field.

Boston’s outfield alignment once the season starts will depend on if Ceddanne Rafaela wins the job in center. In that case, O’Neill, a two-time Gold Glove Award winner (2020, '21), would likely roam all over the outfield. If Rafaela opens the year at Triple-A Worcester, O’Neill is likely to get most of his time in left with Jarren Duran playing in center.

“He moves in the outfield,” said Cora. “He brings an edge to the lineup.”

Though he didn’t make excuses when it was happening, O’Neill now acknowledges how difficult it was to play well while constantly coming back from injuries.

“The toughest part about being injured is the stop and the start,” O’Neill said. “You build up. You get hurt, and stop and you come back a couple of weeks later. By then other guys are in midseason form. For me, I had to rebuild up and try and catch up to those guys in the middle of the season, which is very difficult. And I may do relatively okay, but there's much more in the tank for me.”

The Red Sox are looking forward to watching O’Neill empty that tank in their uniform.