The second most impressive thing about Tyler O'Neill as a ballplayer is the comparisons to Brett Lawrie.
The top one is how O'Neill, yet another Langley Blaze prospect, seems to be handling them.
"It's leverage with scouts," the Maple Ridge slugger said of the tag, which came initially from longtime Blaze manager Doug Mathieson and has been picked up by Baseball America, who also recently pegged O'Neill a top high school prospect for the 2013 major league draft. "They like to have comparisons.
"Doug is getting my name out there, and even more than I could have hoped for. I can't say enough about what he's done for me."
There are some logical links between Lawrie and O'Neill.
Lawrie, 22, is one of the cornerstones of the Toronto Blue Jays' future. He used to star under Mathieson with the Blaze. O'Neill, 17, resembles him physically; he's a powerfully built, 6-foot, 205-pound right-handed hitter. O'Neill, too, shows athleticism, with eye-popping bat speed and a 6.75-second 60-yard dash time.
Mathieson contends that O'Neill and Lawrie even have a similar gait.
Lawrie, of course, has bolted his way through baseball's minor league system, making the bigs after just over 300 games in the minors. That will take some doing to duplicate.
That said, O'Neill, from a distance, does seem to have his head on straight.
"I loved facing the competition there, seeing guys who are at or above my level," said O'Neill of a recent trips with a Mathieson-led group and the Canadian junior national team to Arizona and Florida, where he faced minor-league prospects.
"You get to see the 90-plus (mile per hour) arms. You have success against them, and it makes you feel like you're going in the right direction."
Last spring, O'Neill required hernia surgery, couldn't handle the rigours of catching, and moved to shortstop. Canadian national team coach Greg Hamilton said that O'Neill probably has the best chance behind the plate for big-league teams, especially with the
shortage of power-hitting catchers.
He has committed to Oregon State for the 2014 season, so he's slated to end up there if he doesn't sign after the June draft.
They have him pencilled in to split time between third base and catcher, he said.
"He has a ton power, especially considering how well he runs," said Douglas College bench boss Cav Whitely, who was one of the coaches of the O'Neill-led B.C. squad that placed second at the Canada Cup in London, Ont., last August. "To me, he has three pro tools right now if you add arm strength.
"He's very advanced physically for an athlete his age."
Baseball America pegged him as the 85th best high school prospect for the next draft earlier this month.
Other recent Blaze products playing pro ball include Tyson Gillies, Kyle Lotzkar, Jordan Lennerton, Tom Robson and Kellin Deglan.
-Steve Ewen is with The Province
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