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Hochman: Cardinals' Tyler O'Neill lost some bulk, in hopes his overall hitting will improve

Hochman: Cardinals' Tyler O'Neill lost some bulk, in hopes his overall hitting will improve

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JUPITER, Fla. — It’s not like the Cardinals suddenly have Bruce Banner in left field. Tyler O’Neill still has his “Incredible Hulk” features, notably the biceps as big as Festus.

But the Cardinals slugger has slimmed down some, from “205-210” pounds to “just under 200,” he shared Wednesday on a walk to his car after a workout. He’s making changes to his body he hopes will make changes to his body of work.

“The 205-210 was just a little bulky for me, which is what I realized,” O’Neill said. “I’m feeling so much better than I have in the past. … My body feels good, I feel more energetic, my swing feels better, everything’s better for me, so I’m excited to utilize that and put it in play. I changed my diet, I really upped my veggie intakes, just laid off some red meats, different things like that. Focused more on eating good, clean foods, and not just throwing whatever I want in my body.

"It’s not focusing on bulking up; it’s focusing on getting lean foods in me. I’m good, I’m doing shoulder mobility, hip mobility and different things that allow me to rotate through the zone, rotate when I throw.”

Now, let’s point out that a transformed body doesn’t guarantee success for every player. Every spring, in every camp, a few players become news stories with a new look. They all don’t have better years.

But for O’Neill, this is definitely interesting for numerous reasons. See, he was striking out a lot. He was “KK” before the Cardinals got “KK,” the Korean pitcher. O’Neill struck out 53 times in 141 at-bats last season. And in 2018, he struck out 57 times in 130 at-bats. He’s talked in the past about the psychology of that, the limited at-bats making him “antsy.” But now he feels his svelte body can help his swing — and won’t affect too much of the power.

O’Neill, 24, spent the offseason in his small hometown outside of Vancouver, where he “got a little mental reset. Changed some regiments of mine to stay on the field and feel physically better. I’m feeling so much better already. I know we haven’t really started full-blown baseball activities, but just going through the motions, doing different things like that, I feel good.”

He did walk a little more in 2019 than 2018. And he did strike out a little less. And he registers good exit velocity and speed with his running on the field. He's healthy, too, after dealing with numerous nagging injuries in 2019. There is a lot to like about O’Neill’s potential, if you don’t look at his through the prism of a “failure” the past two years, but instead as a player on a journey.

And in 2020, he’ll get more at-bats than ever before.

We think.

Well, they say he’ll play more.

He’s still in competition with Lane Thomas and Dylan Carlson and perhaps some others for outfield starts and at-bats.

But he’s intriguing.

“When you look back to last year, Tyler O'Neill was not really given a chance to really play, and now he's going to get that chance,” Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said Wednesday. “And you know, everybody in here understands you got to wear ‘big boy pants,’ and it's what they do with it. But we have a lot of optimism and we really feel like they're going to make the most of this chance.”

We call O’Neill a “Cardinals slugger.” Is he? Like, we know he has slugging capabilities, we saw it in the minors, we saw it in the famous walk-off homer in 2018, we saw it in bunches. But he hasn’t earned the title “slugger,” one can suggest. So this is the time. This is his chance. And even those he’s a little slimmer, and dropped some bulk, he feels he still has some Hulk in him.

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