Through four seasons in professional baseball, Michael O’Neill needed a change.
After playing in the New York Yankees’ organization from 2013-16, the 2010 Olentangy Liberty High School graduate has moved on to the Texas Rangers’ farm system.
The change seems to be a good fit, as O’Neill quickly has advanced to the Frisco (Texas) RoughRiders in Double-A, where he maintains aspirations of playing in the major leagues someday.
“It was really the change I needed,” said O’Neill, an outfielder. “The Yankees gave me a wonderful opportunity to start my career and now I’m happy to have a second chance with Texas. I’m doing what I can to help the organization.”
Last season, O’Neill played a total of 95 games for Class A Tampa (Florida) and Double-A Trenton (New Jersey), batting a combined .251 with three home runs, 25 RBI and 11 stolen bases.
“After (last) season, I asked to be released from the Yankees (organization) so I could get a new opportunity,” O’Neill said. “They let me know right before Christmas that they would (grant the release) and I signed with Texas the first week of February.
“It was tough to leave a place that I have had such a long relationship with, but it was the best move that I possibly could ask for. I’m extremely grateful the Yankees gave me the opportunity to succeed in a new place. Both (the Yankees and Rangers) have given me an opportunity to chase a lifelong dream.”
O’Neill, 25, started this season with the Down East Wood Ducks, a high-Class A team in Kinston, North Carolina. In 45 games, he batted .273 with seven home runs, 19 RBI and 16 stolen bases to earn a promotion to Frisco.
“We were looking for a guy who can run a little and do some things to get us going offensively,” Frisco manager Joe Mikulik said of calling up O’Neill. “He’s a good athlete who had some success in high-(Class) A ball. He can play any outfield position and he comes to play every day.
“We were a little surprised by the pop in his bat. He has shown plus-power, which is not something we were expecting. The ball has been jumping off his bat.”
Through his first 22 games with Frisco, O’Neill was batting .304 with four home runs, eight RBI, nine runs scored, two stolen bases and a .398 on-base percentage.
As he closes in on 100 games played in Double-A, O’Neill said the talent at the different levels doesn’t matter as much as being ready to play.
“People like to bring up (Class) A, Double-A and Triple-A, but it’s still baseball,” said O’Neill, who played three seasons at the University of Michigan before being drafted in the third round of the 2013 MLB draft by the Yankees. “Even though the game speeds up at each level, the pitcher is still 60 feet, 6 inches away. You have to focus on what you are trying to do, execute your routine and go from there.
“You have to develop a routine and stick to it. Getting to the ballpark at the same time and getting (batting practice) in the same way every day is important. I try to go to bed at the same time every day and get up at the same time. Everything starts with rest and recovery.”
O’Neill’s speed and versatility have added to his value, allowing him to bat in the top three spots in the Frisco batting order and play any outfield position.
“Some of the things I bring to the team are my ability to run the bases and the way I can play all three outfield positions,” said O’Neill, who originally was drafted by the Yankees in the 42nd round of the 2010 draft after his senior season at Liberty. “Some players struggle to go from center field to a corner outfield spot or they don’t run the bases well.
“The hardest part now is that every night you are facing some guy who has ability to get to the major leagues. If you’re not ready, you’ll be exposed. Baseball is a game of failure and you try to limit the failures as much as possible.”
Part of being a professional player is learning how to live the life of a transient, being away from the support system that you had at the high school and college levels.
“Earlier this year, I moved from (North Carolina) to Texas,” O’Neill said. “You live out of a suitcase and get to the next destination after your series.
“You learn a lot about yourself as a player and a person. I definitely have gotten better in pro ball and have learned to adapt to the competition. Everyone here has the aspiration to make it to the big leagues and it’s a constant struggle for everyone to see how they operate in the minor-league process. It’s all part of the road to reaching my goal.”