While monster home runs this spring have been Peter O’Brien’s calling card, Diamondbacks’ team officials are looking past the rockets’ red glare and the bombs bursting in air. Despite his reputation as a prodigious home run hitter, O’Brien has captured attention that reaches beyond his moon shots.
At the same time, O’Brien, a 24-year-old out of Miami, Fla., made significant adjustments in his game from a power broker to a more complete hitter. Two changes affected both O’Brien’s progress at the plate as well as in the field. One had to do with gaining a competitive edge as a hitter, and one with his glove.
Though O’Brien’s a catcher by trade, the Diamondbacks have taken his tools of ignorance in favor of a fielder’s glove. Here, he was given meaningful playing time in the outfield and at first, and this combination makes O’Brien attractive for a potential roster spot.
Given the highly competitive nature of camp, and the fact that manager Chip Hale continues to say that nearly every player is performing at a very high level, O’Brien’s versatility, especially as a third catcher, appears appealing. At the same time, he remains realistic about his chances of making the final, 25-man roster.
“I can’t control any of that,” he said before a Diamondbacks split squad took on the Rangers in Surprise on Sunday. “I can only control getting good at-bats and focus on doing the best job I can.”
From a .284 season at AAA Reno last season, O’Brien was a September call-up to the majors, and promptly hit .400 (4-for-10, one home run) in eight games. Taken aside in the off-season and during training camp by Reno hitting coach Greg Gross and major league hitting coaches Dave Magadan and Mark Grace, the suggestion was made for O’Brien to shorten his swing. That’s because Phil Nevin, the Reno manager, saw O’Brien’s eventual value beyond the high-profile home runs.
O’Brien then sat down with the teachers and began to absorb their direction. This spring, the results have been telling. Coming into Sunday’s game with Texas, O’Brien was second in the Cactus League in RBIs (15), and tied for home runs with five bombs. All of which signals a change in his approach and his ability to assimilate important information. The difference was O’Brien shorten his swing and began development as an overall hitter, and not just a home-run hitter, Nevin pointed out.
“I look at O’Brien and see a hitter who’s eliminated the peaks and valleys,” said Nevin. “That means he’ll have more peaks and good at-bats, and fewer valleys and slumps. This spring, I see the adjustments he’s made, and he has the potential to be a very good, all-around hitter.”
If O’Brien made necessary adjustments to enhance his value at the plate, he is making an equal and conscience effort to adjust in the field. Though Hale identified left field at Salt River as most challenging and indicated the area is problematic at best for all fielders who play there, O’Brien discounted the observation. Indicating he is becoming more comfortable in the outfield, O’Brien put to rest the notion of any defensive challenges.
“I think I’ve become a pro playing sun ball in all spring training stadiums,” he smiled. “For me, I try and be consistent, and have confidence I can do the job.”
For now, O’Brien’s bombs in camp have turned heads. Going forward, it will be his glove and ability to adjust which may give him a better than reasonable chance to make the final cut later this week.
REDUCED BY ONE
On Sunday, the Diamondbacks reduced their roster by one player. Left-handed pitcher Matt Reynolds was optioned to AAA Reno. Reynolds, who had Tommy John surgery to repair his damaged left elbow in 2013, appeared in 18 games for the Diamondbacks last season and had a 0-0 record with a 4.41 ERA. Reynolds has been bothered this spring by a sore rib cage.
The Diamondbacks now have 40 players remaining in the major league camp, and must be down to the 25-man, opening day roster by this Saturday. Manager Chip Hale said composition of the team would likely be 12 pitchers, 11 position players, and two catchers.
The Diamondbacks bus over the Scottsdale Stadium and face the San Francisco Giants at 7:10 p.m. Monday night. Minor league pitcher Kyle Drabek, who pitched for Toronto and the Chicago White Sox in his six previous major league seasons, will go for Arizona, and right-hander Chris Heston will start for the Giants.