There’s a fine line between confidence and cockiness in professional sports, and especially baseball, a game defined by more failures than successes. So when 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock Huard asked minor-leaguer Tyler O’Neill Friday about where that line is, the reigning Southern League wasn’t quite sure how to answer.
“I couldn’t tell you. Are you saying I’m one or the other?” O’Neill asked.
“Nope. Not at all,” Huard responded. “I’ve certainly heard that you’re confident in your skillset; you’re not afraid to show that in a game of failure, that failure does not get in your way. And I think there can be a line at times between confident and cocky.”
“You gotta be confident at all times, especially me; that’s definitely in my makeup but I don’t believe I’m cocky at all,” O’Neill replied. “There are people that do push the limits. I don’t think I’m one of them.”
Thus far, Mariners fans have plenty to be confident about with O’Neill, the reigning Southern League MVP. The 2013 third round pick, who turns 22 in June, has impressed in each of his stops through the minor leagues, breaking out at Double-A Jackson last season with 24 home runs, 102 RBI’s and a .293/.374/.508 slash-line. He has been dubbed the Mariners’ No. 2 prospect by MLBPipeline.com and has shown flashes thus far in spring training, slapping three doubles and three walks in 15 at-bats. He will play for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic later this month.
At 5-foot-11, O’Neill is shorter than most power-hitting outfielders but boasts a weight-lifter’s physique – thanks to his upbringing as the son of former Mr. Canada, Terry O’Neill. The younger O’Neill acknowledged that his powerful trapezoids and biceps might influence his confidence level.
“It could be the mirrors, could be the weights. I don’t know, whatever,” he said. “But I just always have had this, I guess, swagger about me that I can compete anywhere and I be an impact player anywhere.”
Beyond flashing his skills on the field, he’s been entertaining his teammates with other skills off the field. His musical talents were on display when he performed the theme song from “Lord of the Rings” on a keyboard during a team meeting in the Peoria Sports Complex clubhouse, with Brazillian reliever Thyago Vieira free-style beat-boxing alongside.
“It definitely brought me back to when I was a little kid having to play in front of a bunch of people for annual recital,” O’Neill said. “But it was really fun, I really enjoyed it. It was great to get my fingers moving again and to play for a meeting.”
O’Neill is also a skilled hockey player, saying that the WHL draft was an option for him in the 10th grade but that he pursued baseball instead. O’Neill said he still plays – including in the clubhouse – but the skills don’t really translate to one another.
“If you’re a good skater, you’re gonna play but it’s definitely a different skill set compared to baseball,” he said.
O’Neill, who said he is happy to be in the Big-League camp and is trying to “embrace the opportunity,” is a nonroster invite to Seattle camp and will likely begin the 2017 season at Triple-A Tacoma. When asked how he could end the spring on the 25-man roster, O’Neill stayed humble.
“I don’t know. I’m gonna break wherever I break,” he said. “Everything’s uncertain right now and I’m just gonna play every day. I’m just gonna do my best in every situation, every pitch, every at-bat; I’m gonna build my legacy and get to the spot that I want to get to.”
And what is that legacy?
“I want to play in Seattle, I want to be a franchise player and I want to bring a World Series to this great city,” he said.