DURHAM, N.C.—Catcher Peter O'Brien has been a force for Miami this year. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound senior is leading the team in nearly every offensive category, hitting .389/.483/.792 for the 16-4 Hurricanes with eight doubles and seven home runs.
O'Brien grew up in Miami and attended Braddock High before spending his first three college years at Bethune-Cookman. He broke out as a sophomore, hitting .386/.445/.748 with 20 home runs, but stepped back a little last year (.304/.382/.557). The Rockies drafted O'Brien in the third round in 2011, but could not come to an agreement.
O'Brien decided to transfer to Miami for his senior season, but his homecoming with the Hurricanes almost didn't happen. He applied for an eligibility waiver from the NCAA because he transferred to be closer to his family—specifically his mother, who was battling health problems. The first batch of paperwork was sent to the NCAA in August and he found out he was denied in December. O'Brien appealed the decision with a conference call and had to wait the entire winter break before hearing the good news that he'd be eligible to play. O'Brien never let the process bring him down.
"I'm a confident guy, so from day one I said I'm going to be playing at Miami this year, for my senior year," O'Brien said. "I gave it 100 percent and knew I was going to be on the field come season time."
From the get-go, O'Brien has been a difference maker for the Hurricanes, both on and off the field.
"He's a very talented player that's getting better, no question about that," Miami head coach Jim Morris said. "He's got great power, he's got an outstanding arm and he's a big strong guy, so he's got all the tools to be really good. He's a guy that hasn't caught much, just started catching his senior year of high school, but he can really light it up on days and his ceiling is very, very high."
Even as a senior transferring in, O'Brien was named team captain.
"To me, that was the most impressive thing about him," Morris said. "As a coaching staff, after one practice, we went, 'That guy is going to be our captain,' and he had been there one day. I've never said that in my entire coaching career, so he's very impressive as an individual. He works hard on the field and off the field, and he's just a nice young man with a great family."
In addition to his tools, his work ethic and his leadership, O'Brien brings one more thing to the table that helps him at Miami and will continue to help him in pro ball: He's bilingual.
"We didn't realize that his dad is the only American in the family," Morris said. "The rest of his family is Cuban and he speaks Spanish in the house. He's fluent in Spanish, which I think is a great thing as a catcher to be bilingual with pitchers in college and pro ball."
When asked about his role as captain, O'Brien was quick to share the praise.
"I've never seen a team where you leave the clubhouse at 10 o'clock at night after a game and there's still guys hitting in there," O'Brien said. "It's not only one guy that works hard here, it's the whole team—in the weight room, in the classroom, on the field, everywhere. So, when you have a team like that, it's easy to go out there and be yourself."
For O'Brien, being himself means playing good defense, handling a new pitching staff and raking at the plate. On March 18 against Duke, O'Brien went 4-for-5 with two doubles and a home run.
The games against Duke were at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, which served as a trip down memory lane for O'Brien. He played against South Korea at that park with Team USA's collegiate team two summers ago. That summer, O'Brien hit .306/.350/.694 with two doubles and a team-leading four home runs over 36 at-bats.
O'Brien's two most impressive at-bats in the series finale against Duke were the opposite-field double in the first inning that one-hopped the wall in right center and then the home run in the third inning—a no-doubter over the DBAP's Blue Monster that rattled the aluminum awning of the Tobacco Road restaurant beyond the 32-foot-tall wall.
"We had a scouting report knowing that the guy was going to try and pound us away, so I just tried to look the other way and drive the ball hard on a line and I did just that," O'Brien said about the first double. "With the home run, a guy was on third, so I was just trying to put something out in the outfield and drive the ball and get a good pitch. I had a 2-0 count and he threw me a fastball in and I put a good swing on it."
One of the most impressive things about O'Brien's swing is how balanced he is at the plate.
"Me, as a big guy, it's really important for me to stay on my legs," O'Brien said. "That's something we've been working on the whole fall—just not striding too much and kind of being soft with that front foot and it's helped me out tremendously. Not only with seeing the ball better, but with driving the ball the other way."
Below in the video, you'll see some defensive footage of O'Brien, followed by all of his at-bats in the March 18 game against Duke. In order, those at-bats go like this: Double to right-center, home run to left-center (followed by slow motion footage of that swing), fly out to the warning track in right field, double off the wall in left field, hard single into right field.