Slugger signs in NCAA, pro scouts come calling

Maple Ridge slugger weighing options of whether to play college ball or sign with a MLB team

Maple Ridge's Tyler O'Neill  batted .403 with 10 doubles

Maple Ridge's Tyler O'Neill batted .403 with 10 doubles

Play out an NCAA baseball scholarship, or turn pro? It’s a question Tyler O’Neill is wrestling with.

On the same day as it was announced that the Maple Ridge slugger had signed a letter of intent to join the Oregon State baseball team in 2014, representatives of the Houston Astros dropped by his house for a visit.

It was his first visit from a Major League Baseball team, but two more are scheduled to come in December.

“They love the long ball – especially catchers who can hit the long ball,” said O’Neill.

Ball clubs at every level take notice when a high school player dominates the prospect factory that is the B.C. Premier Baseball League, as O’Neill did last season. With the Langley Blaze he was the MVP of the league and batted .403 with 10 doubles, four triples, six home runs and 39 RBI in just 134 at bats in 2012. Then the Garibaldi secondary senior went on to represent team B.C. at the Canada Cup.

His play draws comparisons to Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie – a fellow Blaze alumni who is projected to be a big league star. O’Neill appreciates the association with Lawrie, who was a first-round draft pick and who helped pave the way for the next crop of talent out of the BCPBL.

“It’s always good to be compared to someone like him. He plays the game hard, like I try to do,” said O’Neill.

The Oregon State Beavers courted O’Neill when he visited their campus in Corvallis earlier this month. He was impressed with the atmosphere, by everyone wearing the team gear and by the coaching staff that would help him develop his game.

He signed, and if he plays in the NCAA, it will be for the Beavers.

“We are very excited to have Tyler join us starting next season,” Oregon State head coach Pat Casey said in a press release. “He will bring a lot to this program, both on the field and off it. He is a very talented player who has a great makeup and will be a student-athlete of terrific character. Tyler has an offensive potential to hit in the middle of our lineup with real power.”

But if he is a high pick in the MLB entry draft in June, the lure of beginning a pro baseball career will manifest. He’s rated as the No. 85 player in North America by Baseball America and 109th by Perfect Game.

“It’s too far away for me to make an actual decision,” he said. “I won’t be able to decide until after the draft.

In the meantime, he’s hitting the gym hard, and on off days hitting the ball hard in batting practice. Just to cover all the bases, he has added yoga to his training regimen.

O’Neill will be taking into the Power Showcase Home Run Derby Dec. 27-30 at Marlins Ballpark in Miami, joining some of the top baseball prospects from across North America and other baseball nations like the Dominican republic. He’s looking forward to his moment at the plate.

“I love it. I love being on the big stage. I’m going to be ready for it,” he said.

“You just time it right, and swing as hard as you can.”