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Jonathan Mayo

O'Neill continues to rake with second AFL homer

Mariners No. 2 prospect crushes 443-foot home run

O'Neill continues to rake with second AFL homer

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Tyler O'Neill came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the ninth inning of Monday's Arizona Fall League game between his Peoria Javelinas and the Glendale Desert Dogs. The Javelinas had just taken a 5-4 lead on a bases-loaded walk by the Reds' Brandon Dixon and the first pitch from new reliever Ryan Brinley hit off the knob of O'Neill's bat.

Home plate umpire Shane Livensparger initially ruled the pitch had struck O'Neill on his elbow pad and pointed him to first base. But O'Neill told Livensparger the truth, that it was actually a foul ball. Was it a fit of Canadian honesty from the British Columbia native?

"I just wanted to hit," admitted O'Neill, who eventually grounded out to third to end the inning in a game that ended with that one-run difference, giving the Javelinas their third win in five games.

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Who could blame O'Neill for wanting to continue swinging what has been a very effective bat for all of 2016? The Mariners' No. 2 prospect (No. 59 on the overall Top 100 list) had already hit a long home run and opposite field double in the game, a continuation of his MVP campaign in the Double-A Southern League this year.

"When you're hot, you want to keep going," said O'Neill, who hit .293/.374/.508 with 24 home runs and 102 RBIs with Double-A Jackson during the regular season. "That's exactly what's going on. I just wanted to come out here and keep performing."

He certainly did that with his first two trips to the plate against Glendale starting pitcher Austin Voth. Leading off the second inning, O'Neill fouled off Voth's first offering, then absolutely crushed the next pitch into no-doubt-about-it land in left-center field. Outfielder Courtney Hawkins (White Sox No. 14), playing left for Glendale, didn't even move.

"He hung me a little slider there," O'Neill said about his second long ball of the AFL season. "Luckily, I put a good swing on it and it left the ballpark."

Saying it "left the ballpark" is a vast understatement, or perhaps that Canadian modesty. Trackman measured the blast at 443 feet, with an exit velocity of 111 mph off of O'Neill's bat. "As soon as I hit it, I just put my head down and started to trot," O'Neill said with a smile. "I knew it was out and it felt good."

In his next at-bat, with two outs in the fourth, O'Neill showed he can do more than just grip it and rip it, lacing a 1-1 pitch for a double to right-center field. The 21-year-old spends a lot of time in batting practice working on hitting the ball the other way, and that work has paid off. "I started that not even a month into the season last year," O'Neill said. "It keeps my swing path inside and gets that extension there. That's what helps me in games, so that's how I handle my pregame business."

The two hits were the only negatives on Voth's record on Monday. The right-hander, ranked No. 9 on the Nationals Top 30, gave up just the one run on two hits, walking none and striking out seven. And it looked for a while that he would be on the winning side of the ledger.

After O'Neill's home run, the Desert Dogs tied things up in the bottom of the second when Dodgers infielder Tim Locastro drove home Hawkins, who had singled, with two outs. It stayed tied until the sixth, when Glendale scored twice on an RBI single by Nationals infielder Drew Ward and a Hawkins sacrifice fly.

The Javelinas pulled to within one on Reds first baseman Chad Wallach's first home run of the fall, a shot to left off of Cardinals reliever Rowan Wick. Cardinals No. 15 prospect Paul DeJong temporarily padded the Glendale lead with a one-out single that scored Locastro, who went 3-for-3, in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Orioles prospects helped bring Peoria back. D.J. Stewart (Orioles' No. 12) tripled in Adrian Marin in the eighth to make it 4-3. They then strung together an error, a soft single and a hit by pitch to load things up in the ninth. Marin drove in the tying run with a sacrifice fly, while Dixon's RBI walk came one out later. The Javelinas would have added another run if O'Neill hadn't been so honest.

It was just another sign of just how comfortable O'Neill is at the plate, especially since this is his second go-round in the AFL. Last year, O'Neill went 10-for-30 with three homers and five RBIs in eight games coming off of a monster year in the California League that saw him hit 32 home runs. He was well aware, however, of the skeptics who don't trust numbers in the hitter-friendly league and want to see it at a higher level. He also knew he wanted to improve on his .260 average, not to mention his 30.5 percent strikeout rate and 6.5 percent walk rate.

"I really wanted to come into the season in Jackson, in the Southern League, and prove a point, that I'm an all-around player," said O'Neill, who hit .293 at the higher level, thanks to an improved 10.8 percent walk rate and 26.1 percent strikeout rate. "I can hit the ball for average, I can play defense, I can do all of those things. I'm starting to get a little bit of recognition for that, so I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.