Tyler O’Neill is making a lot of noise in Florida right now. So much so, that he’s putting himself in the conversation for the Opening Day job in right field. Now, Spring Training stats don’t always mean much and the Cardinals have already said Dexter Fowler is their guy, but what O’Neill is doing at the moment is hard to ignore.
O’Neill and Fowler aren’t the only options in right though. Jose Martinez is still fighting for the job as well. After all, he did lead the Cards with a .305 average last year and had the second best OPS on the team.
As previously stated, the Cardinals said during the offseason that Dexter Fowler is their right fielder, even after an abysmal 2018 season. Fowler played in just 90 games last year and still managed to put up a -1.4 WAR. He slashed a mere .180/.278/.298, hit only eight homers, drove in 31 runs and had an OPS+ of 59.
Despite all that, the Redbirds seem to be ready to give him the starting job right back. He has done some work with Barry Bonds this offseason, which provided him with some confidence and a tweak to his mechanics. Additionally, he was apparently dealing with depression last year, which he is now overcome.
O’Neill broke into the big leagues last season. He played in 61 games, hit nine home runs, drove in 23 and slashed .254/.303/.500. His wRC+ was 114 as well.
While Fowler was struggling and dealing with injuries, O’Neill provided a very solid replacement. In fact, he was much better all around that Dex was. Not only did he hit better, he also played considerably better in the field. O’Neill compiled four of his six defensive runs saved while playing in right field last year.
Currently, Tyler is crushing the ball in Grapefruit League play. Despite an average of just .238, he leads the squad with four home runs and an OPS of 1.070. He collected his first hit of the Spring that didn’t go over the fence yesterday with a double, after homering in his first at bat.
Again, Spring stats don’t always mean a lot, but O’Neill is definitely putting pressure on Fowler and Martinez to perform.
Martinez seems to be often forgotten when discussions about right field take place. This is even after he played 335 innings out there in 2018. The likely cause though, is his defense. He was actually worse defensively in right last year than Fowler according to defensive runs saved. Fowler put up a negative five while Martinez came in right behind him at negative six.
Jose’s offense makes up for much of that though. He was the only qualifying Cardinals batter to hit over .300 last year. He also had an OPS of .821 to go with his 17 home runs and 83 RBI. Those numbers alone should put him in the conversation when it comes to playing time in right.
On the other hand, he’s struggled to get going so far this Spring Training. He’s currently hitting just .176 without a home run or RBI. There’s still time for him to turn things around, but at the moment, he’s being far outplayed by O’Neill. As are all the other Cardinals outfielders.
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