The Red Sox made their first notable player acquisition of the offseason Friday, landing Tyler O’Neill from the Cardinals for two minor-league pitchers.
O’Neill, 28, has spent the entirety of his major-league career with the Cardinals, making his debut in 2018, but he started his professional career with the Mariners, who selected him in the third round of the 2013 MLB Draft out of high school. He was traded to St. Louis in 2017.
Here are five things to know about O’Neill.
He’s dealt with injuries.
O’Neill’s body hasn’t been kind to him the last two seasons. The outfielder only has played 168 games since the start of the 2022 season, making just 72 outings in 2023.
It wasn’t just one ailment that slowed down O’Neill, either. In 2022, he had a couple of injured list stints. First, he missed multiple weeks in the early part of the season due to a shoulder injury. A few weeks later, he missed nearly a month due to a hamstring. Even though he came back and played two straight months, O’Neill wound back up on the injured list for the last few weeks of the season, again due to his hamstring.
The 2022 season wasn’t the only time O’Neill dealt with hamstring issues. When he competed for a spot on the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster during spring training in 2018, O’Neill came back from an oblique injury only to suffer a hamstring injury that sidelined him for nearly a month. Later in his rookie season, O’Neill missed a couple more weeks due to another hamstring ailment.
Last season, O’Neill missed over two months due to a lower back strain. While he returned in late July, he missed the final few weeks of the year with a foot injury.
O’Neill admitted the back injury was a pretty painful one, as he struggled to do things off the field.
“Pretty much everyday life was tough to get through, but I’m a grinder and I wanted to push through it,” O’Neill told reporters upon his return. “It got to the point where I couldn’t even hold my baby girl — not even 11 or 12 pounds at the time — and I’m waking up in the middle of the night with shooting pain down my leg on a consistent basis.”
He’s a weightlifter and piano player.
O’Neill takes his appreciation for weightlifting from his father, Terry, who was named Mr. Canada in 1975 as the country’s top bodybuilder. A video from O’Neill’s minor league days showed him squatting 585 pounds.
O’Neill seems to have dialed back on his bodybuilding. In 2022, he said in a viral TikTok post that he isn’t quite lifting at his personal records.
“Probably a good five years ago, I put up 425 pounds [on the bench press]. Four plates and a 15 on each side. That was my PR. I’m not up there right now, but that was a while ago. And then squatting, I’ve done five plates, I think I got three or four reps out of there.”
O’Neill’s other favorite off-field hobby is playing the piano. When he was in the Seattle organization in 2017, the Canadian told The Seattle Times his favorite song to play was “O Canada.”
In spring training that year, O’Neill impressed his Mariners teammates by playing the “Lord of the Rings” theme song during a talent show.
“I don’t think anything will top yesterday morning’s meeting,” then-Mariners manager Scott Servais told The Seattle Times of O’Neill’s performance. “We are going to give it a couple days. It was as good as I’ve seen in a while. Tyler O’Neill was outstanding. He played on the keyboard, the theme from ‘Lord of the Rings.’ [Thyago] Vieira was right there doing the beat box with him. There was dancing.”
He’s a multi-time Gold Glove winner.
If the Red Sox were looking to improve their outfield defense, they picked a pretty good option.
O’Neill’s won two Gold Gloves, picking up the honor in back-to-back seasons in 2020 and 2021. He was tied for first among all left fielders in outs above average both seasons, recording four OAA both years. He also finished tied for third in outs above average (2) among left fielders in 2022 despite nearly missing half the season.
O’Neill has played a little bit at each spot in the outfield. He took over center field duties for the Cardinals the last two years, as St. Louis liked his sprint speed, among other traits. The versatility figures to serve him well.
He’s put up solid numbers against lefties.
Other than fielding, another reason why trading for O’Neill made sense was the simple fact that it gave the Sox a righthanded hitter.
Before Friday, platoon player Rob Refsnyder and rookie Ceddanne Rafaela were the only righthanded-hitting outfielders on Boston’s 40-man roster, which has only four other righties regardless of position. (Duvall and Justin Turner are both free agents.)
O’Neill certainly gives the lineup more flexibility against lefties. In his six-year career, O’Neill has slashed .252/.353/.463 with 16 homers, 43 RBIs, and a 112 OPS+ over 360 plate appearances against southpaws. He was noticeably better hitting lefties than righties in 2023, slashing .227/.354/.439 with three homers and a 122 OPS+ in 79 plate appearances against lefthanded pitchers.
He was one of the best players in the National League in 2021.
While O’Neill has struggled with injuries, everything seemed to fall into place for him in 2021, proving what he can do when he’s healthy.
O’Neill was a plus-player in nearly every facet of the game. He hit for average (.286) and got on base (.352). He hit for power, recording 34 home runs (seventh-most in the National League) and a .560 slugging percentage (fifth-best in the NL). He showcased speed, stealing 15 bases in 19 attempts — an impressive 78.95 percent success rate — and won a second Gold Glove.
So, it wasn’t a surprise that O’Neill was fifth in WAR among all National League position players (6.1) and finished eighth in MVP voting. Can he replicate that kind of season?
O’Neill’s 93 mile-per-hour exit velocity and 52.2 hard-hit percentage that year were career highs. His exit velocity was 2.3 m.p.h. faster and his hard-hit percentage was 6.8 percent higher than his career averages, so it’s probably unlikely he will have another season like 2021. But his expected batting average (.250), expected weighted on-base (.337), and expected slugging percentage (.449) were all higher than his actual slash line last season (.231/.312/.403). Maybe he stands to gain some luck in 2024.