The right tool for the right job -- perhaps no St. Louis Cardinals prospect understands that better than Springfield outfielder Mike O'Neill.
Listed at 5-foot-9 and not overly powerful at the plate, O'Neill has learned to be comfortable with the tools he has during a climb through the Cards system that has seen him scorch certain hitting categories and play his way into prospect status.
"I feel like I've been getting better each year because of understanding who I am as a hitter," said O'Neill.
With patience and a good eye, O'Neill has adjusted to his role as a contact-hitting table setter. As long as he is getting on base, the left-handed O'Neill is content to let others hit the home runs.
"My strength is putting the ball in play, using the whole field," said O'Neill, whose one homer this year was part of a three-RBI day against Northwest Arkansas on May 10. "Being a constant pest on the basepaths and just going from there."
He may not be built to look down on other players physically, but O'Neill has enjoyed the view from the top of the hitting charts since the Cardinals took him out of Southern Cal in the 31st round of the 2010 Draft, paying him a mere $1,000 bonus.
"In college at USC they wanted us to hit home runs and stuff like that," O'Neill said. "Out here the Cardinals, they see me as the leadoff type hitter who gets on base at a good rate and uses the whole field, and I've been able to do that."
He has hit no lower than .283 for a season since turning pro and batted .342 to win the Class A Florida State League batting title last year after a knee injury slowed him in 2011. O'Neill led the Minors with a .458 on-base percentage in 2012 and was second in hitting with a .359 overall average between Palm Beach and Springfield.
"He does as good as anybody in our Minor League system of knowing the type of hitter he is," Springfield manager Mike Shildt said. "He's got a really short, compact swing, he's very disciplined with his plate zone, so he stays in the strike zone, which is huge for your hitting."
O'Neill arrived in Springfield late last year and hit .563 in 13 games to help the Cards to their first Texas League championship since joining the league in 2005. Entering Monday he was second in the circuit with a .344 average and .459 on-base percentage, while Springfield was a half-game behind Arkansas in the chase for the North Division first-half crown.
True to his pesky nature, he broke up a no-hit bid by Frisco's Carlos Pimentel on Thursday and has enjoyed the supportiveness of the fans, who re-create a mini-Busch Stadium atmosphere at Springfield's Hammons Field.
"My family is back in California, but in Springfield I feel like they are my family," O'Neill said.
If his 2012 regular season tired him out, O'Neill showed no signs as he charged into the Arizona Fall League to bat .368 with a .463 on-base percentage and .397 slugging average.
From his low-round selection to the top of the Texas League stats, O'Neill has enjoyed the ride so far but says his journey isn't over.
"I don't see myself as a 31st-rounder," he said. "I just see myself as the leadoff guy and left fielder today and I go from there."
Shildt's show: Springfield is in the hunt for a North Division half-season title and a return to the playoffs. Nothing new for manager Mike Shildt, who won a Texas League title in his first run with the Cards last year and took Appalachian League titles in 2010 and 2011 with Johnson City.
Shutout shout-out: Frisco RoughRiders right-hander Carlos Pimentel, named the Texas League Pitcher of the Week after his near no-hitter Thursday, also flirted with Frisco history. Pimentel went seven innings with one hit and just three base runners in the 1-0 victory, Frisco's first shutout with one hit or less since Joe Weiland's no-no on July 29, 2011.
Stingy starts: San Antonio stifled Arkansas in its three-game sweep May 22-24, allowing just three runs in the three-game series and getting strong starts by Donn Roach -- who won the finale, 4-1, on Friday to earn his first victory since April 9 -- and Matt Wisler. Wisler bounced back from his worst performance (five runs in the first at Frisco) to shut out Arkansas for seven innings in the 1-0 victory Thursday.