Salt River Rafters catcher Peter O'Brien is used to defying the odds.
Undrafted from his Miami high school and not heavily recruited by Division I schools, O'Brien headed to Bethune-Cookman for three years. He was drafted in the third round by the Rockies after his junior year, but chose not to sign.
After transferring to the University of Miami for his senior year, O'Brien was selected by the Yankees in the second round of the 2012 draft. He played parts of three seasons in the Yankees organization before he was traded to the Diamondbacks on July 31 for the versatile Martin Prado.
O'Brien had a breakout season in 2014 when he hit 34 home runs at two levels in the Yankees and Diamondbacks’ organizations, slugging one every 11.7 at-bats, as well as appearing in the Futures Game at Target Field in Minneapolis.
But evaluators aren't convinced that O'Brien's long swing and swing-and-miss tendencies will allow him to handle big league-caliber pitching.
Not only that, but most scouts don't believe O'Brien possesses the catching skills required to stay behind the plate on a regular basis.
O'Brien just shrugs off the doubters. He knows he has the skills, work ethic and determination to prove them wrong.
“The biggest thing with me is I have a lot of confidence I can catch," O'Brien said. “… There are little things here and there that might have to be tweaked, but I have a lot of confidence in myself … I know that I can receive and call a game and block with the best of them."
The Diamondbacks are seeing progress just in the short time that O'Brien has been part of their organization.
“Pete has progressed well," said Mike Bell, Arizona's director of player development. “He has soft hands and a strong arm …. We believe he is heading in the right direction. He wants to catch and by all accounts he has a good feel for pitch calling."
The Diamondbacks are investing the time in O’Brien. Major league coach Glenn Sherlock and catching coordinator Bill Plummer have been working with him in Arizona this fall.
O'Brien's recovering from an injury that ended his regular season in early August after he fouled a ball of his shin just four games after joining the Diamondbacks organization. After four weeks in his second Fall League stint, O'Brien is batting .250/.416/.483 with three homers in 60 at-bats. While he's struck out 16 times, he's also drawn 15 walks.
O’Brien’s just as confident in his ability at the plate as he is in his ability to stay behind the plate.
“I'm at the point right now in my career, I'm at an age where I've been playing long enough, and I've been in pro baseball long enough that I know a lot of the things I need to work on, I know what's going to make me better," O'Brien said. “The biggest thing is to stay with my routine I've had this whole year and keep working on all the basics of the game—pitch recognition and barreling the ball up more consistently …. I feel confident where I am (with) hitting and I feel confident in where I'm heading."
Rafters hitting coach Jacob Cruz also worked with O'Brien during his short time with Double-A Mobile and now again in the AFL. He likes what he sees in the righthanded slugger, and is most impressed by O'Brien's passion for the game.
“(He's) one of the hardest-working kids I've come across," Cruz said. “His determination to get better is unbelievable. He's a kid that goes after it day in and day out with enthusiasm. He has a nice routine that he follows every day religiously."
Cruz added that they are making a few adjustments in O'Brien's approach at the plate to allow him to stay closed longer to get him to use the whole field more.
“Pete is a kid who can hit the ball hard to any place in the ballpark," Cruz said, “so we want to get back to that and allow him to have a swing that allows him to do that … just keeping to stay through the ball and being able to hit the ball hard and hit it out to any part of the ballpark."
O'Brien is rapidly adjusting to life in the Diamondbacks organization after his time with the Yankees, crediting his teammates and coaching staff for helping him with the transition.
Coming back for his second season in the Arizona Fall League has also been an enjoyable experience for O'Brien, especially now that he gets to play in front of the hometown fans.
“I love the Fall League and when I heard that I was coming here again I was excited," O'Brien said. “It also gives me a little more sense of pride this year that I'm playing in front of my hometown crowd. It's kind of nice to build a relationship with some of the fans from out here."
AROUND THE AFL
• Carl Crawford and Dustin Pedroia will become the newest members of the Arizona Fall League Hall of Fame in separate ceremonies prior to AFL games this week. Crawford will be inducted on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Salt River Fields. Pedroia, who played his college ball at Arizona State, will be honored at Scottsdale Stadium on Nov. 5 at 6 p.m.