JUPITER, Fla. — DBacks Team BC has plenty of intriguing talent–for the 2013 draft and beyond.
As a fellow Canadian with a similar build and athleticism, it’s easy for scouts to compare Tyler O’Neill to Brett Lawrie. O’Neill, who attends Garibaldi SS in Maple Ridge, B.C., doesn’t have quite as much power as Lawrie had at the same stage, but he’s very strong and shows explosive bat speed with a balanced, simple approach. He’s an above-average runner with a 6.75-second 60-yard dash time and has at least average arm strength. O’Neill plays catcher for the same travel team that produced Lawrie–the Langley Blaze–and recently became a member of the Canadian Junior National Team, where he plays shortstop.
The similarities don’t end there.
“He even walks like Lawrie,” DBacks Team BC manager Doug Mathiesen said with a chuckle. Mathiesen is a Canadian scout for the Diamondbacks and has known O’Neill for about four years as the general manager of the Blaze program.
It’s true. O’Neill exudes the same type of swagger as Lawrie and is clearly in a good mind set as he confidently approaches the plate.
“He’s a hard-nosed kid,” Mathiesen said. “He loves the game and loves to hit. Certainly, the makeup’s all there. He’s a good kid.”
Like many Canadian athletes, O’Neill’s first love was hockey. He played center and began playing baseball at age 10 to stay busy in the summertime. Around ninth grade, he decided to focus full-time on baseball. Playing for the Langley Blaze helped put him on the map. In addition to Lawrie, the program has produced players like Scott Mathiesen, Tyson Gillies, Kyle Lotzkar, Tom Robson, Dustin Houle, Kellin Deglan and Wes Darvill.
“It keeps the atmosphere good because they’re trying to get you prepared for college and after high school,” the Oregon State recruit said about playing for the Blaze. “The coaching’s great and Doug really cares for his players.”
Last spring, O’Neill had hernia surgery and wasn’t able to handle the physicality associated with playing catcher, his natural position. But he still wanted to play, so he headed out to shortstop.
“Just this year it became my new position because I couldn’t play back there because I was still recovering,” O’Neill said. “So Doug threw me over at short and I made my team, the Langley Blaze, then I made the B.C. team and then Team Canada, all in a couple months. I still need to improve over there. I’m not at my best yet, but I’ll get there.”
With his body type, arm action and makeup, scouts believe O’Neill profiles best behind the plate. But he doesn’t care where he plays, as long as he’s out on the field somewhere.
“I like to be energetic and try to keep a positive attitude,” O’Neill said. “I play the game hard and always give as much as I can, 100 percent.”
Being a recent addition to the Canadian Junior National Team has been a positive experience for O’Neill. In the weeks leading up to this event, he played instructional league teams in Arizona and Florida.
“You get to see 90-plus (mph) arms and get the actual feel of a major league fastball,” O’Neill said. “Even though they’re not there yet, they could be in a couple years, right? So, it’s good for that, especially when you have success against them. It makes you feel like you’re going in the right direction.”
In Arizona, O’Neill had several hits, including a home run against the Rangers instructional league team.
• While O’Neill stood out the most in the 2013 class for DBacks Team BC, one of his teammates is the biggest eye-catcher on the field. Outfielder Demi Orimoloye is a sophomore from St. Matthew HS in Orleans, Ont., (class of 2015). As a child, Orimoloye moved to Ontario from Nigeria and is already a physical specimen at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds.
“He’s certainly raw and has to learn a lot about the game, but he has the potential to be a five-tool guy,” Mathiesen said. “He’s in that category. He’s got size and strength and he runs a 6.5 (second) 60. He’s going to get better, he just needs a lot of at-bats and to keep playing, but he’s going to be a really impressive player in a few years.”
• Lefthander Travis Seabrooke from Crestwood SS in North Monaghan, Ont., draws interest for his projectable size and feel for pitching. Standing 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, Seabrooke has plenty of room to fill out. His fastball sat in the 84-86 mph range and he mixed in a 75-77 mph changeup and a loopy, 12-6 curveball. The pitching conditions were terrible during his outing against Orlando Scorpions Purple, but Seabrooke threw a very good game. He was cruising along until the fifth inning when he gave up four runs. Overall, Seabrooke threw 4 1/3 innings, giving up four earned runs on five hits with four walks and three strikeouts.
“I thought it was pretty gutsy,” Mathiesen said. “That’s a pretty tough team to pitch against. He used his curveball and changeup in counts that a lot of kids wouldn’t at that age and he competed his tail off.”
• Third baseman Lachlan Fontaine from Sutherland SS in North Vancouver, B.C., also stood out in the game. He has a solid build at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds and some power potential in his smooth lefthanded swing. Fontaine is a good athlete and shows solid-average arm strength.