The Cardinals announced yesterday they have placed outfielder Tyler O’Neill on the 10-day injured list with a left wrist strain. The placement is retroactive to August 1, meaning O’Neill could return to action as soon as next Sunday.
O’Neill’s 2019 production has been more or less what we’ve come to expect from the 24 year-old. He’s got prodigious raw power and shocking speed, but he’s yet to translate those immense physical gifts into consistent big league results. In 266 MLB plate appearances over the past two seasons, O’Neill has slashed a solid but unspectacular .266/.309/.467 (106 wRC+). That output is propped up by an unsustainable .382 batting average on balls in play, masking a dreadful combination of strikeouts (37.1%) and walks (5.0%). As a player with strong exit velocities and elite speed, it’s fair to note O’Neill has the type of profile conducive to maintaining a high BABIP, but even the game’s best hitters come nowhere close to sustaining a figure near O’Neill’s .382 mark over multiple seasons.
While O’Neill’s early MLB stats aren’t the most encouraging, there’s still ample promise in his long-term profile. Injuries and a crowded corner outfield mix in St. Louis have kept him from getting a chance to play everyday at the highest level. This current IL stint will mark O’Neill’s fifth over the past two seasons. It seems too early to label O’Neill an injury-prone player, though, and an extended run of health and playing time could give the prodigious athlete a chance to iron out the plate discipline woes that have been his undoing so far. Further, his career high minors performance has been superb, and unlike some bat-first performers in Triple-A, O’Neill comes with a top prospect pedigree.
Whether that extended big league opportunity comes in St. Louis or elsewhere remains to be seen. O’Neill wasn’t entirely off limits in discussions leading up to the July 31 deadline (although they seemingly never aggressively shopped him either), so the team could theoretically revisit talks this offseason. However, the aforementioned corner outfield crunch may sort itself out organically. Marcell Ozuna, who was activated from his own IL stint to take O’Neill’s place on the active roster, is an impending free agent and has earned a competitive market with a strong platform season. José Martínez, meanwhile, figures to again pop up in trade rumors this winter involving AL clubs, where his bat-first profile is an easier roster fit. It seems the Cardinals can make space long-term for the supremely talented, if still flawed, young slugger.