2014 was supposed to be a big year for Mike O’Neill. He was placed on the 40-man roster of the St. Louis Cardinals, making it possible he could get a major league call at some point this season. The problem for O’Neill and other Cardinals’ outfield prospects is they have too much depth. Granted, within the organization you wont hear the phrase “too much depth”, but for a player like O’Neill who should be with the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds, it is a problem. This depth forced him to begin the season back with the Double-A Springfield Cardinals and 2014 has not gone as planned.
It is not a good sign when a player with one exceptional tool, loses that tool.
Prior to 2014, O’Neill was an on base machine, with OBP’s at or near .400 every season of his career. He isn’t a power or doubles hitter, he is an on base machine. There were many that wanted O’Neill to be called up late last season as a possible late inning pinch hitter. He would finish the season with the Memphis Redbirds and would have a ,402 OBP despite hitting .295. For Memphis, he had an impressive 8.3% K rate and an equally impressive 15.0% BB rate.
The problem with these last two numbers is they point to a decline. His K rate in 2013 for Memphis was his worst since 2011 and his BB rate was his worst since the first half of 2012. To make things worse, his numbers for 2014 keep going down. His 8.3 K rate is up to 8.9 and his 15.0 BB rate is down to 14.3.
If we look deeper into O’Neill’s advanced stats we continue to see further evidence of a decline. O’Neill’s .328 wOBA (average) is the lowest of his minor league career. Also, his 104 wRC+ (solid) is also his lowest of his career. In 2013, O’Neill had a 105 wRC+ for Memphis, but that was down from 140 with Springfield in the first half of 2013.
At age 26, O’Neill may have already reached his peak and, if we continue to see these similar numbers, his best years are behind him and if injuries or trades happen, O’Neill could be a candidate to be removed from the Cardinals’ 40-man roster. In fact, O’Neill may be behind another member of the Springfield Cardinals outfield who is also on the 40-man roster, Rafael Ortega. Ortega is a better defender and is higher in wOBA (.336) and wRC+ (110). Both O’Neill and Ortega are behind James Ramsey, another Springfield outfielder who is not currently on the Cardinals 40-man roster.
Only 44 games into the season for O’Neill, these numbers could change and we will keep our eye on them, but his future with the St. Louis Cardinals could be in jeopardy very soon.