Who is he and where did he come from?
He’s Tyler O’Neill and comes from the St. Louis Cardinals, who, thanks to a logjam in the outfield, were so eager to get rid of him that John Mozeliak was a week or so away from stuffing him in a gfit bag for a white elephant party.
The Red Sox acquired him in a deal for two middling minor leaguers: Nick Robertson, a reliever who came over in the Kiké Hernandez trade and whose departure is making our own Jacob Roy sad, and Victor Santos, a 23-year-old pitcher who had an ERA of nearly 5 last year at AA Portland
What position does he play?
He’s an oufielder, we covered this above.
Is he any good?
Well, look: if you’re the editor of a Red Sox blog and you just spent an hour drinking martinis with a friend at a bar on Boylston and wishing all the tourists in town for the Army-Navy game would stop asking you to pronounce “chowder,” then your might hear the name Tyler O’Neill and get pretty excited, thinking the Sox just a got a right-handed power bat with 30 homer .350+ OBP potential.
. . . Then you might mention how excited you are in the ol’ office Slack and get completely roasted by the rest of the staff, who, unlike you, paid attention to what Tyler O’Neill has been up to for the past two seasons.
The answer is that Tyler O’Neill was — for one season — really, really good. But since then, things have gotten a little ugly.
A giant Canadian lumberjack of a ballplayer, O’Neill was one of the top prospects in the Cardinals system when he debuted in 2018. A series of injuries and the pandemic made for a rough start to his career, but everything finally came together for him in 2021. O’Neill mashed 34 homers for the Cards that season while playing Gold Glove defense in left field, stealing 15 bags, and slashing an outstanding .286/.352/.560. He finished eighth in the National League MVP voting and made the rest of America groan about the Cardinals’ seemingly inexhaustible ability to turn previously mediocre ballplayers into stars (see, e.g. Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, etc.)
But those eye-popping numbers masked something ugly: a 31% strikeout rate, which was the sixth-highest in all of baseball that season. All that swing-and-miss caught up to O’Neill really quickly, and by mid-May 2022, he found himself hitting just .195/.256/.297 after striking out 42 times in his first 32 games of the season. That’s when he would go down with a sore shoulder, his first of three separate trips to the IL for three different injuries in what would ultimately amount to a lost season.
Unfortunately for him, 2023 would turn out to essentially be a repeat of 2002. He got off to another ugly start, was weirdly called-out by his manager and benched for apparently not rounding third base in the Cardinal WayTM, and then made another extended stay on the IL, this time for a lower back strain. His final line for 2023 would be an ugly .231/.312/.403 with 9 home runs and 67 strikeouts in just 72 games. And both 2022 and 2023, he really struggled against righties
So is he any good? Well, you could just look at the last two seasons and think of him as kind of like Hunter Renfroe in the sense that he’s a big power and strikeout guy who should be platooned against most righties (albeit with more speed and a way better glove than Renfroe).
But there’s something else to consider about the last two seasons: injuries aren’t the only bad luck O’Neill faced in them. In both 2022 and 2023, O’Neill’s xwOBA (which essentially measures the quality of contact a hitter makes) was significantly higher than his actual wOBA, which suggests that he may have been getting pretty unlucky on batted balls. In fact, in both seasons his hard-hit percentage, barrel percentage, and average exit velocity all remained well above league-average.
In other words: it’s possible that, while he’s not nearly as good as his 2021 season suggests, he’s also probably not nearly as bad as 2022 and 2023 make him look.
Show me a cool highlight.
It’s the holidays, and it’s no time for pessimism. So here’s a video from two years ago titled “Tyler O’Neill is the next MLB superstar.” Watch it and pretend the two subsequent seasons didn’t happen.
What’s he doing in his picture up there?
You know what, forget about that picture up there. Instead, look at this picture down here, because that’s Tyler O’Neill’s dad, 1975’s Mr. Canada, looking extremely uncomfortable holding a sword next to Arnold on the cover of Combat Magazine. I would advise against messing with the O’Neills.
What’s his role on the 2024 Red Sox?
It’s actually pretty hard to say at this point. It’s possible that he could be plugged in as a like-for-like replacement for Alex Verdugo as the everyday right fielder. Though it should be noted that, while he certainly has the tools to play a very good right field at Fenway, he hasn’t actually played there all that much so far in his career, as he’s been almost exclusively a left fielder. Moreover, given his recent struggles against righties, it’s hard to envision the Sox giving him the full-time job right out of Spring Training. So maybe, then, he’s more of a replacement for Rob Refsnyder as a fourth outfielder who starts against lefties and serves as a defensive replacement. Or perhaps he’ll see more time in left, allowing Masataka Yoshida to spend more time as the DH.
With O’Neill, Yoshida, Jarren Duran, Ceddanne Rafaela, Wilyer Abreu, and Refsnyder all battling for roles, we might see some further trades before we know how the outfield is going to sort itself out.