Sports

Blaze's O'Neill signs with Mariners

Tyler O
Tyler O'Neill awaits a pitch during the Canadian junior national team's trip to the Dominican Republic last month. O'Neill a power hitter for the Langley Blaze, was drafted in the third round of Major League Baseball's amateur draft.
— image credit: photo courtesy of Baseball Canada

Neil Corbett

Black Press

Tyler O’Neill has long been a fan of the Seattle Mariners, and apparently the Maple Ridge slugger got their attention too.

On Friday morning, the Major League Baseball club made O’Neill their third-round pick in the 2013 draft, choosing him 85th overall.

He was the second Canadian selected.

“You’ve got to be excited,” said O’Neill. “I grew up with them being my number one team. My family would drive down a couple times per year to see the Mariners.

“Now I want to be a player who makes other kids want to come to the ball park and fall in love with the game.”

O’Neill is a Langley Blaze power hitter who has terrorized pitchers in the Premier Baseball League. He is currently a triple crown threat, hitting .576 with six home runs, and has run away with the RBI lead with 47 in only 57 at-bats. That follows up a first season where he was the rookie of the year and the league’s offensive MVP.

He has drawn comparisons to Toronto Blue Jays third-baseman Brett Lawrie.

“The unique thing about the Canadian team is they play in Florida and Arizona and play against the Class A, [Class A Advanced] and sometimes Double-A prospects,” said Tom McNamara, the Mariners’ scouting director, on the team’s website.

“You’re seeing 17- and 18-year-old’s get up against stuff that they’re probably not going to see here in the spring against high school pitchers. So we saw him really handle some really good pitchers, older guys that didn’t care who he was — they went right after him and it was really good to see.”

According to the website, they are projecting to play him as a right-fielder.

O’Neill’s agent called him at 7:30 a.m. on Friday morning, to talk with him about the Mariners, and their intention to take him in the third round. O’Neill said his agent liked the deal the Mariners offered, and the opportunity to take on a role in an organization rebuilding with young players.

“He was ecstatic about it — third round to the Mariners is a pretty good spot,” said O’Neill.

O'Neill tweeted out a picture on Tuesday night which showed him signing his contract with the baseball club. He will leave for  the Arizona Summer League later this month, once he is done his high school exams.

He hopes to play in a few more games with the Blaze before turning pro — O’Neill was hitting .576 with six home runs and 47 RBIs in 18 games. His average and RBIs would lead the league if he had the minimum number of plate appearances to qualify.

His father Terry is a former bodybuilding champion who showed Tyler how to build a physique that has earned him the nickname Tank, and Terry and the rest of his family should be able to easily travel to watch Tyler play if he lands with the Everett Aquasox, who are their Class A short season team.

The draft list shows O’Neill as a right fielder, but he has been a catcher and shortstop with the Blaze. In any case, it will be his bat that drives his baseball career.

— with files from Gary Ahuja/Langley Times

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