Back in 2012, Peter O’Brien was drafted as a senior out of the University of Miami. O’Brien’s high prospect ranking was due to an impressive display of offense and status as a senior that would likely sign below slot value in the second round. Not much has changed for the bat-first catcher, who’s now seeing more and more time around the field. While the Yankees have kept him behind the plate, O’Brien has now found himself with a handful of innings in the outfield and at third base. While his defensive ability is still in question, O’Brien’s offense has maintained, and he now leads all of minor league baseball with 19 home runs this season, which ties him with Nelson Cruz for the most home runs in professional baseball. Here is his latest shot.
In 2013, O’Brien had a breakout performance in Charleston and Tampa. He finished last season with 22 home runs, good for a .291/.350/.544 slash, but also struck out 134 times. The right-handed hitter showed great power in a pitcher-friendly environment, but he was also extremely prone to striking out on breaking balls. To compensate for the better breaking balls at the upper levels, O’Brien worked with Kevin Long this spring on quieting down his stride step and shortening his lofty swing. The results speak for themselves, as O’Brien has maintained a gaudy slashline into Double-A. He’s showing significantly more power, and actually striking out slightly less in higher levels.
But there’s still some worry that his bat may struggle in the major leagues. O’Brien has developed very little plate discipline this season, and he only has seven walks over his first 199 plate appearances. As he sees better and better pitching and breaking balls, the catcher may run into trouble hitting for average and on base percentage, and though he’s made some changes in his swing to compensate, the numbers are not there yet.
With Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran suffering injuries early this season, some have speculated that the Yankees need another first base or corner outfield bat. It’s led to some discussion of free agent Kendrys Morales, but if the Yankees can wait until mid-season, O’Brien has shown the ability to hit for similar power. He’s obviously not as sound of a hitter when it comes to average and plate discipline, but O’Brien is a much cheaper home run solution.
For as impressive as he’s been in Trenton, the slugger only has 80 plate appearances above A-ball. His limited experience at the upper levels is a huge concern, as well as his lack of walks. Personally, it’s hard for me to believe that this will translate when he sees veteran pitchers attempting to get him swinging outside of the zone. There are still some very fundamental issues with his game, which include discipline, his contact ability, and his fielding. Rushing O’Brien could damper his progression this season.
Perhaps he’ll make the active roster as a September call up, but O’Brien needs to hit more than home runs to earn a quick major league promotion. He may be a bigger benefit to the Yankees as a trade chip, and his power potential could be of greater value to a more patient team like the Cubs.