Yesterday, the Yankees were off and the big focus was on the young guns being drafted in the NFL. In Yankeeland though, a MLB draft pick from a couple years back featured in the most relevant Yankees baseball news of the day. Their second round draft pick from 2012, Peter O'Brien, was reportedly promoted from High-A Tampa after their game yesterday and will head to the Double-A Trenton Thunder.
The sometimes-catcher/sometimes-right fielder has yet to find a definite home on defense, but O'Brien was absolutely raking in Tampa. When he was drafted, his claim to fame during his time at the University of Miami was his monstrous power, and that was on display last year, when he led all Yankee minor leaguers with 22 dingers between Tampa and Low-A Charleston. He dominated the Sally League early on in 2013 when he hit .325/.394/.619 with 22 doubles, 11 homers, and a 181 wRC+ in just 53 games. That earned him a mid-June promotion to Tampa, where he hit a respectable .265/.314/.486 with 17 doubles, 11 homers, and a 122 wRC+ the rest of the way, impressing fellow Miami native Alex Rodriguez with his gaudy power during A-Rod's rehab stint. After the season ended, he spent 16 games in the Arizona Fall League, where he did look overmatched despite four homers, batting a mere .190/.212/.413 in 66 plate appearances.
O'Brien didn't get off to a great start to 2014 as he looked absolutely dreadful against more legitimate competition in spring training. He went hitless in 16 plate appearances, striking out nine times in the process. However, when he reported to Tampa, he exploded. The 23-year-old absolutely wrecked Florida State League pitching and hit .321/.353/.688 with 20 extra-base hits in just 30 games, a 192 wRC+. Away from the more pitcher-friendly Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, he hit an absurd .400/.455/.940 in 14 games. Thus, the promotion should not surprise anyone. O'Brien was already around average age for his level and it's best to give him a greater test as soon as possible. (No word yet on who is replacing him in Tampa, but I'm crossing my fingers for 2013 draft pick Aaron Judge, another college-trained bat crushing his league, given his .311/.413/.415, 140 wRC+ line in Charleston.)
That being said, it might take him a little while to get adjusted to the level. Miami born and raised, this will be O'Brien's first time regularly playing up north and perhaps in less favorable conditions than Florida. Trenton's Arm & Hammer Park is an even tougher place to hit than Steinbrenner Field. Furthermore, there's a big step up in the caliber of pitching from A-ball to Double-A, a level that sometimes sees pitchers promoted directly to the majors without needing Triple-A. Perhaps most concerning is the fact that O'Brien's plate discipline is still in serious question. He only walked four times in Tampa (3.4% BB%) while striking out on 29 occasions (24.4% K%).
Given his defensive limitations, the righthanded hitter definitely needs to improve his patience at the plate. It will definitely be a test for O'Brien and I look forward to seeing him develop further as a power hitter while hopefully finding some place on the field to stick. He is reportedly pretty atrocious behind the dish and more highly-regarded prospect Gary Sanchez is trying to improve his own defense, so as of now, it seems like the Yankees won't be catching him much longer. Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin are soon returning from injury, but they could also improve O'Brien's right field play in the meantime. Hell, even when they return, Austin could reportedly see some time at third base anyway, so O'Brien might stay in right anyway.
The obvious place for O'Brien is first base, a position that just opened up since Trenton had to clear a roster spot for O'Brien. They bumped 26-year-old first baseman Kyle Roller up to Triple-A Scranton, a promotion that was also deserved despite Roller's non-prospect status since he was leading the Eastern League himself with nine homers while also batting a crazy .385/.456/.808 in 21 games. In the International League with Scranton, Roller will get a chance to prove that his Eastern League success wasn't a fluke, and more importantly, his departure means that O'Brien could certainly see plenty of time at first base, a less strenuous defensive position where he seems destined to wind up anyway. Maybe there will be first base prospect depth beyond Greg Bird after all.
Best of luck to Peter O'Brien in Trenton. Here's hoping his dingers fly out of Eastern League parks as well as they did in Florida.