The Seattle Mariners and Tom McNamara picked Langley, BC catcher-turned-shortstop-turned-outfielder Tyler O'Neill with their 3rd Round selection in the 2013 MLB First Year Player Draft on Friday Night.
The son of a body builder (his dad, Terry, is a former Mr. Canada), O'Neill has been lifting weights for a while himself and his physique helped to earn him the nickname 'Tank' with his teammates.
I got the chance to speak with O'Neill Saturday Night -- interrupting he and his family from watching Moneyball for about the eighth time, according to his dad -- about his experience with the draft, his style of play, the frequent comparisons to fellow Canadian prep star Brett Lawrie and the turn pro vs. attend Oregon State option ahead of him.
SeattleClubhouse: Thanks for talking with me tonight, Tyler. First off, congratulations on being draft in the 3rd round by the Mariners. How have the last couple of days been for you?
Tyler O'Neill: It's been crazy, that's for sure. I just graduated yesterday, too; so getting drafted and graduating on the same day was pretty hectic. I'm very happy, though.
SC: Which one of those accomplishments is more exciting for you?
TO: Getting drafted, definitely. Baseball is my passion. It's what I'm looking forward to being doing next year, too; just being out on the ball field every day and working to get better.
SC: It seems that the general, perhaps even all too simple, comparison going around with the so-called experts for you is with the Blue Jays' Brett Lawrie. He played for the same travel team -- the Langley Blaze -- that you now play for and a lot of people see a lot of similarities in you two. What do you take from that?
TO: I think it is really easy for people to compare me too him, as obviously I come out of the same association, play for the same coaches and all that sort of stuff. Apparently I walk like him, all the works, my batting stance and so on. I'm not trying to imitate him at all, but apparently that seems like what I'm doing. It's cool to take the comparisons to him, because obviously he's a good ball player, so I'll take it.
SC: Absolutely. Kind of hitting on that note again, Tom McNamara is the guy who drafted Lawrie in the first round back when he and Jack Zduriencik were with the Brewers. I know that Wayne Norton is the area scout for you up there, but obviously if anyone would recognize those similarities in the two of you it would be the guy that scouted each of you closely as amateurs. How many times that you know of did Tom make it out to see you play?
TO: I'd say he saw me all during [the Blaze's trip to play against MLB instruct squads] Arizona. I'm not too sure where else he personally saw me, so that might be the only spot. Obviously a lot of times when scouts come in to see players they like to blend in and not be noticed, so you just have to always go out and act like they are there and play like they are there.
SC: Considering how few high school baseball players are lucky enough to get drafted into professional baseball, it really does take a breakout of sorts to be among those who hear their name called during the draft. Would you say that this  season is where that breakout happened for you, or is this just more like the natural culmination of your years of hard work paying off?
TO: I actually think that my breakout was more last year, my junior year. That is when things really started to come together for me. I really started to swing harder -- swing as hard as I can -- and sort of changed up my approach so that I was swinging more for power than for contact. From there I'm just more of a 'see it and hit it' kind of guy, and that's worked well for me.
SC: Prep baseball in Canada is a bit different than in the states. Give the readers a little breakdown of how that plays out for high school aged baseball players.
TO: I think there is a smaller high school league over in Ontario, but for the most part all of the baseball that is played by kids in high school in Canada is done on travel teams or club teams. So we hook on with them and we go out and we travel for our league games and then it is basically on them to get us exposure. In league we play about 40 games, but on my team we also play a lot of exhibition games -- like going to Spring Training down in Arizona, and we also play a lot of high school teams from Washington -- so we probably end up playing over 100 games with my team alone.
SC: So being from the area and even traveling down here to Washington state for games, are you a fan of the Mariners?
TO: The Mariners have always been my favorite team, actually. When I was younger my family and I would go down to Safeco Field to watch the Mariners play about once or twice a year and it was just a great experience for me. And now going forward I want to be one of those guys that brings the younger kids out to watch them play and get them to love the game.
SC: Let's talk about the injury that led to the defensive position shuffling that you've gone through recently; you were a catcher, moved to shortstop for a bit and now it looks like the Mariners want you to be an outfielder.
TO: Yeah. The hernia forced me from my normal position -- I'd played catcher all my life -- but I had to come back early and help out my team, and shortstop was where we needed help the most, so they threw me over at shortstop and I was doing well there. Then they started to put me in the outfield again this year -- I'd played outfield in the past, because obviously when you're really young you're playing all over. This year I started to get a little more serious in the outfield, and now I'm drafted, so it doesn't look like I have a lot of choice in the matter, really.
SC: Your dad is a former Mr. Canada body builder and your nickname is 'Tank', as most people describe you as a very physically advanced kid for a high schooler, so where does the build and the commitment to getting sort of that 'power hitter's build' come from?
TO: Well my dad is a weight lifting champion, and he knows quite a bit about lifting, obviously. I just took off from there. I sort of adapted my workouts to be a little more baseball-related by focusing on higher reps and that sort of stuff. I've always had a natural swing and am sort of self-taught on that front, so I molded those workouts myself to what I thought could help me best.
SC: So you said yourself, "swing as hard as I can," is a part of your approach, so do you see yourself developing into a middle-of-the-order type of hitter down the road?
TO: We all love the long ball. That's why crowds come out to see games, and that's what I want to do. I want to bring fans to the yard so that's what I'm going to try and do.
SC: And you mentioned coming to Safeco several times as a fan but I read that you were in for a workout ahead of the draft, too -- what was that experience like for you?
TO: It was great. I came in for that workout last Monday. Obviously it is one of the nicest stadiums I've ever been to. So just to hit BP out there with all of those guys watching me it was quite an honor.
SC: Get any off the retired Jackie Robinson number 42 out there?
TO: No, not quite. I got about two or three into the upper deck though.
SC: Very nice. We touched on it briefly, but you did the Canadian Junior National Team, too. Did you travel to Arizona for those games as well?
TO: Actually Arizona was with the Blaze, with the National Team we went down to Florida.
SC: Very cool. Lots of experience with travel it sounds like.
TO: Yes. Was moving a lot, that's for sure.
SC: So now what's the next step for you? You'll be in Monday to sign so I assume that means that you've already decided that this is the path for you and college isn't a fallback option that you're looking at?
TO: Oh yeah. It's the fastest way. Fastest way to get to the big leagues, and obviously that's the goal is to get to the big leagues and play at the major league level.
SC: Well I wish you the best with that goal. I know that Mariners fans will be excited to follow you on that journey, Tyler.
TO: Thank you.
SC: Thanks a lot for your time tonight, congratulations once again, and enjoy your trip into town on Monday.
TO: Thank you, Rick.
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