For the last three-plus years, the Cardinals have invested vast amounts of patience, hope, and confidence in Tyler O’Neill.

Along the way chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, GM Michael Girsch and the organization’s analytics department probably invested in vast amounts of antacids, headache pills and various elixirs as they watched the strikeouts, the injuries, the strikeouts, the the injuries, the strikeouts and demotions to Triple A Memphis.

O’Neill displayed enough power, speed and corner-outfield defense to keep management tantalized. But the O’Neill Show has been a tease and a test for the mesmerized baseball staff at Busch Stadium.

Not that the Cardinals expected an immediate breakout when they acquired O’Neill from Seattle in July 2017 for starting pitcher Marco Gonzales. Still, the ups and downs had prompted questions.

Did the Cardinals trade for a Bambino?

Or were they Bamboozled?

In parts of three seasons (2018-2020) with the Cardinals, O’Neill batted .229 with .291 onbase percentage, .422 slugging percentage, a 713 OPS, and a strikeout rate of 34 percent.

There had to be at least some doubts about O’Neill’s plate discipline, erratic contact rate, and all of the whiffs and walks back to the dugout. To its credit, Cardinals management has remained undeterred in the commitment to staying with O’Neill.

The venture appears to be paying off.

Fingers crossed, of course.

Despite having to pause for two stints on the 10-day IL already this season, O’Neill’s offensive numbers continue to erupt and rise. The massive power has materialized, and it’s substantive.

In 160 plate appearances this season O’Neill has muscled his way onto the hitter’s leaderboard. He’s also playing spectacular defense in left field and zooms around the bases with sprinter’s speed. He has five stolen bases, has saved three runs defensively in left field, and is a plus 7 in net baserunning gain.

As of Thursday morning, here’s the O’Neill report. Here’s where he ranks in the National League among hitters that have at least 160 plate appearances:

  • Tied for first in the NL with Jesse Winker for highest slugging percentage, .649.
  • 2nd in the NL to Fernando Tatis Jr. in Isolated Power.
  • 4th in the NL with 15 homers, trailing Ronald Acuna Jr. (18), Winker (17) and Tatis (17.)
  • 10th in the NL in batting average (.291) 6th in OPS (.974.)
  • Fifth in park-and-league adjusted runs created at 64 percent above league average offensively.
  • 21st in RBI, with 32. And keep in mind that his at-bats total isn’t as large as the many players that haven’t been slowed by IL visits.

The O’Neill strikeout rate for the season is still high, at 33.7%. But two things about that: (1) no one should stress over an elevated strikeout rate when a guy is consistently powering up for home runs and doubles. And (2) the strikeout rate has been going down; it’s around 30 percent since O’Neill returned from the IL (the first time) on April 23.

“Tyler has made tremendous adjustments over the past 24 months and it’s exciting to watch him play,” Mozeliak told me on Thursday. “Not only in the batter’s box, not just in left field, but always on the base paths. He is turning into a complete player.”

I gave you O’Neill’s place in the NL rankings. But his hitting prowess and prominence has him leading Cardinals hitters (100 PA minimum) in key categories.

O’Neill is No. 1 among Cardinals in batting average, homers, slugging, OPS, and park-and-league adjusted runs created. He’s second to Nolan Arenado in RBIs, third in onbase percentage, and second to Tommy Edman in stolen bases.

O’Neill is homering at a rate of one blast every 10 at-bats. But since April 23, O’Neill is homering every 8.78 at-bats. That’s McGwire Power. He’s also batting .325 with a .359 OBP and .732 slug over that time.

Since May 11 O’Neill has hit 10 of his team’s 28 homers — or a preposterous 35.7 percent. He hit two bombs for three RBIs in Wednesday’s 8-2 win over Cleveland.

O’Neill’s spray charts show many hard-hit balls soaring and sizzling to all parts of the field — and over all sections of the wall or fence. And unlike previous seasons, he’s crushing meatball pitches — those thrown over the heart of the plate.

Did you know that O’Neill is a Statcast star?

99th percentile in barrel percentage.
100th percentile in expected slugging percentage.
98th percentile in sprint speed.
93rd percentile in average exit velocity.

“It’s a fun sport when you’re hitting the ball,” O’Neill said Wednesday night via postgame video conference. “You put balls in play, good things happen.”

Given his immense power, blazing speed and flying, diving defensive plays in left — well, there aren’t many MLB players more exciting than O’Neill these days.

Sure, O’Neill will have to stay on the field. No more injuries, please. And he’ll have to avoid extended periods of extreme swing-and-miss rates and strikeout totals. If he can stay healthy and limit the length of inevitable slumps, the Cardinals will have the power-hitting, all-around outfielder they’ve been dreaming of since making the trade with Seattle.

Thanks for reading…

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Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.