Baserunning skills and speed make up one of the five main tools that evaluate baseball players. Those abilities are highly regarded by teams that want to pick up extra bases and extra runs. One of the Charleston RiverDogs that is most equipped to run his way to success is outfielder Michael O'Neill.
"I think the biggest thing is just playing to my strengths, using my speed to my advantage, and just trying to help the club win in any way possible," O'Neill said about his on-field goals.
O'Neill's style perfectly fits in with the 2014 RiverDogs. He stole five bases in five attempts over his first ten games while helping Charleston begin the season as one of the most prolific base-stealing teams in all of affiliated baseball.
"You can turn singles into doubles just because you can run. 'Skip' (manager Luis Dorante) has been unreal about letting us run."
Michael is the son of Mike and Sandy O'Neill as well as the nephew of former Cincinnati Reds and New York Yankees outfielder Paul O'Neill. He was selected by the Yankees in the 42nd round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, but a torn labrum and the incentives of attending the University of Michigan led O'Neill to choose the Wolverines.
"Just talking with the Yankees and seeing what their plan was for me, knowing that I needed shoulder surgery, the better option was to go and start my education at Michigan," O'Neill said.
The Yankees would call again after O'Neill put together a solid college career. O'Neill was a unanimous pick for the 2011 Big Ten All-Freshman Team after leading the conference with 30 stolen bases, a new Michigan freshman record. As a junior in 2013, he was an All-Big Team selection and an ABCA Third Team All-American.
In three years at Michigan, O'Neill was a .331 hitter and recorded 72 stolen bases while being caught only 17 times. New York chose O'Neill in the third round of the 2013 draft with the 103rd overall pick.
"I think if you ask any competitor, they want something new. They want something new to compete with and try to get better at, and that played into it. Obviously, I think it's kind of hard to turn down the Yankees two times."
O'Neill started his professional career with a couple of interesting connections to the Big Apple. He made his debut with the Staten Island Yankees, which are located within 30 miles of Yankee Stadium. He also has his uncle as a great resource that had his own experience in the New York area. Paul O'Neill won four World Series and the 1994 American League batting title with the Yankees. Michael and Paul talk to each other about once a week.
"He never asks about my results," O'Neill said of his uncle. "If I tell him I'm 20-for-20 or 1-for-15, it doesn't matter. How were your at bats?"
Sam Samardzija, O'Neill's agent at Frontline Athlete Management, is also very accustomed to baseball's family ties. Samardzija's brother, Jeff, is currently a starting pitcher for the Chicago Cubs. Sam knows all too well that there is much more to O'Neill than his family background.
"Obviously we are all familiar with his Uncle Paul and the New York Yankees, but truthfully that is just the tip of the iceberg," Samardzija said. "Having said that, I really believe Michael is just now scratching the surface of the caliber of baseball player he will eventually become."
O'Neill also wishes to fulfill his potential in the classroom. As his first RiverDogs season continues, O'Neill looks forward to eventually completing his University of Michigan degree.
"I can't really sit there and say, 'Well, I'm going to get my degree in a year or five years, ten years,' but I can promise you that I'm going to get my degree," O'Neill said.
Although O'Neill has a lot of goals to achieve both on and off the field, he appears to be running out of the gates and off to a good start.