A look at New York Mets minor league pitcher Conner O’Neil and what the future may possibly hold for the young righty.
I, like many other fans of the New York Mets, have faith that 2019 will be a successful year for the team. The thing that convinced me that fortunes were reversing in Queens was Brodie Van Wagenen’s commitment to shoring up a leaky bullpen in the offseason.
In my opinion, the moves to bring in Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia signaled the Mets were in the midst of establishing themselves as the top pitching staff – top to bottom – in the league. However, the early part of the season has had fans wanting more from the front office in terms of free agents to make the staff even stronger.
While we can debate the merits of having Jason Vargas on the roster until we are blue in the face, or come up with ways BVW can be creative with payroll to add elite arms to the bullpen, we tend to overlook that the future arms for the Mets are already in the organization.
This is why I wanted to spotlight right-handed pitcher Conner O’Neil, who may or may not be on your radar.
(Full disclosure: I worked in sports information and managed media relations for O’Neil’s college team.)
O’Neil got his professional start with the Mets as many do, by being assigned to the Brooklyn Cyclones in 2017 after being drafted in the 7th round. While he was there, he went 1-2 with a 3.28 ERA and 3 saves in 24.2 innings out of the bullpen.
He struck out 28 (10.22 K/9) and walked nine, but did allow 24 hits and amassed a 1.34 WHIP, which has gone down since. The good thing about being a pitcher in Brooklyn though is that the big club sends players there on rehab assignments, and O’Neil benefitted from watching Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia and Noah Syndergaard at MCU Park.
“It really helped a lot of us normalize what we think of big league guys,” O’Neil said. “Familia was very personable, always smiling and enjoying his time. It was easy to tell they had routines set that they’d built over the years.”
After a year in Brooklyn under his belt, O’Neil was promoted to Class-A Columbia, playing alongside Anthony Kay and Quinn Brodey. He thrived in a Fireflies uniform, posting a 6-0 record and a 2.86 ERA with 4 saves in 44.0 innings of relief work. Importantly, O’Neil was able to keep opposing hitters to a .230 average – compared to .273 a year before – and posted a better strikeout pace by fanning 56 hitters (11.45 K/9).
Those two years have led O’Neil to where he is now, starting the 2019 season with the St. Lucie Mets as a bullpen arm. When I was catching up with him, I asked what his approach is to the game, especially being in an organization that is working to develop its young arms.
“The amount of good relief pitching we have is crazy. I think it raises everyone’s standards,” he told me. “My approach has essentially been to stay true to who I am as a pitcher, work hard and be smart. I learn how to adapt at every level, obviously, but I don’t stray away from the way I pitch.”
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So while the Mets are “all-in” for 2019, know that there is a healthy dose of young talent on the farm putting in the work to make a difference for the club down the road.