If you were the person who yelled it, Tyler O’Neill heard you. It came during this past Mariners homestand in the park he once hoped to call home.
Two years after being traded to St. Louis from Seattle, O’Neill finally got to play at T-Mobile Park. And there was at least one fan, the outfielder said, who screamed “We miss you!”
You have to be a pretty devoted Mariners fan to truly “miss” O’Neill. Yes, he was a top prospect, but he never played a Major League game for Seattle.
Instead, he became the key piece the M’s dealt to get pitcher Marco Gonzales from the Cardinals. For that, the Mariners are probably quite grateful — but O’Neill is still grateful to them.
“My heart is in Seattle forever for drafting me and giving me the opportunity to play pro ball,” said O’Neill, who went 2 for 4 in the Cardinals’ 5-4 win over Seattle Thursday. “When you get to Double A, Triple A, the business side comes on a little bit. We just parted our ways and I’m nothing but grateful for St. Louis for giving me the chance to play in the big leagues.”
Asking who “won” a trade is generally a futile question, especially two years after it was made. Sometimes they involve players such as Ketel Marte, who unexpectedly developed into one of MLB’s most fearsome hitters three years after Seattle dealt him to the Diamondbacks.
So far, Gonzales has given the Mariners 310 relatively quality innings, whereas O’Neill has played just 86 games with the Cards. Then again, he also just turned 24 last month.
In an organization brimming with outfielders, O’Neill’s auditions have come sporadically. And after Thursday, he was slashing a pedestrian .263/.300/.368 in 57 plate appearances this season.
Asked what he’s thought of his big-league resume so far, O’Neill gave a noticeable pause.
“Yeah, it’ll all come to fruition eventually, as long I keep playing the way that I play, earning playing time and things like that,” said O’Neill, adding that the his stats have been “average” in his mind thus far. “I know my numbers are going to take care of themselves, so maybe ask me in a couple years and see where I’m at.”
O’Neill went 4 for 11 in these three games in Seattle, but according to Cardinals manager Mike Shildt, his most impressive plate appearance ended in a base on balls in the top of the ninth Wednesday. With St. Louis trailing 2-0 and O’Neill facing a 1-2 count at one point, the walk loaded the bases and set up a rally that ended in a five-run inning.
“He just took a tough at-bat and worked a walk that was huge,” Shildt said. “He’s in the strike zone is my point. When you’re getting your walks in the strike zone, and you’re a guy no matter how much power you have and put a swing on it, you have a chance to do some damage. He’s a talented guy.”
You have to wonder if O’Neill still wishes he was in Seattle given the team’s relatively thin outfield. There would likely be more at-bats if he were a Mariner — more opportunities to showcase his skill.
That’s obviously something he can only imagine, but doesn’t mean he’s without fond memories of this organization.
He remembers going to FanFest twice and interacting with the die-hards. He remembers playing with Mariners designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach in the minors before found his All-Star form.
His thoughts on Vogey now?
“He’s having a heck of year,” O’Neill said. “He’s just a really good hitter. Obviously that’s why he’s on the team and I wish nothing but the best for him.”
He’s not in the Home Run Derby, what’s up with that?
“Don’t know too much. He’s definitely got the power to do it. We’ll see.”
It wasn’t long ago that Vogelbach was a middling hitter searching for consistent playing time. Once he got it, an invitation to the Midsummer Classic ensued. Might O’Neill follow suit?
Per his request, we’ll ask in a couple years.