by Gary Ahuja
See the ball, hit the ball.
It is as simple as that for Tyler O’Neill when it comes to his propensity for hitting a baseball.
“My secret to hitting is keep it real simple,” he explained.
“You want to have your energy focused on the pitching and your opponent.
“If you make it too complicated, you are going to have problems.”
And if anyone is having problems these days, it is opposing pitchers as there is no arguing that what Maple Ridge’s O’Neill is doing is working.
Prior to leaving for the Dominican Republic with Canada’s junior national baseball team, O’Neill was putting up video game numbers for the Langley Blaze.
Through the season’s first half, O’Neill leads the B.C. Premier Baseball League with a 1.136 slugging percentage, a .576 batting average, six home runs, 17 extra-base hits and 47 RBIs. And he has only struck out nine times in 59 at-bats.
Looking back in the league’s record books over the past 10 years, O’Neill’s gaudy stats already rank amongst the all-time best – the only records he does not currently hold are for home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage – and there are still 20 games to go in the regular season.
Nic Lendvoy belted 11 home runs in 2004 for Fraser Valley while that same year saw Langley’s Jon Hesketh finish with an .840 slugging percentage.
And Fraser Valley’s Mark Ellis finished with 58 RBIs in the 2005 season.
“Tyler is the best (high school) hitter in Canada,” said Blaze coach Jamie Bodaly.
“He is a really strong kid and he can recognize pitches.
“It is just tough to get him out.”
O’Neill, who turns 18 on June 22, has built on an impressive rookie season, a season in which he was named the league’s top offensive player and top rookie, as well as a first-team all-star shortstop.
The Maple Ridge native wound up hitting .398 with six home runs and 39 RBIs in 42 games, leading the league in the latter two categories and finishing third in batting average in 2012.
What makes the numbers even more impressive is the fact that during winter training prior to the season, he suffered a hernia injury which required surgery. Midway through the 2012 season, O’Neill’s batting average had slumped to the low .200s.
But he turned things around in a big way and hasn’t looked back.
“It is a lot easier to hit (in this league) when you are a year older, but he has definitely put the work in,” Bodaly said.
“He is a natural, that’s for sure.”
For O’Neill, it is all about putting in the work.
“I am trying to do everything physically possible to make myself successful,” he said.
“I am not going to take any days off because it is just going to take me that much longer to get better if I do that.
“If I’m not playing ball or studying, I’m lifting weights.”
The weightlifting should come as little surprise, as his father, Terry, is a former Mr. Canada.
O’Neill, who is five-foot-11 and 190 pounds, has played in 18 of Langley’s 28 games so far this season, having missed time to attend a Major League Baseball pre-draft workout in California earlier this month and then joining Canada’s junior national team for their annual trip to the Dominican Republic.
“He has strength and bat speed,” said Canadian junior national team coach Greg Hamilton, who has coached some big names in Canadian baseball over the years, such as Brett Lawrie, Mike Saunders and Adam Loewen.
“He certainly would be comparable to some of the better players that have come through.
“That is going to be his calling card: his ability to swing the bat,” Hamilton said.
“As a high school hitter, he is a very advanced hitter.”
And O’Neill takes pride in his ability to bash the ball.
“This is how I should be hitting; it is expected of me and I am going to live up to expectations,” he said, adding hitting is also his favourite part of the game.
Bodaly described O’Neill as quiet, but with a confidence, and very respectful.
Team Canada was scheduled to finish their Dominican tour last night (May 29) and then O’Neill is expected to head to Arizona for a pre-draft workout before he returns to the Lower Mainland this weekend.
All of this is in advance of next week’s MLB amateur draft, which runs June 6 to 8.
O’Neill says he isn’t nervous about where or when he is taken.
“I think what I am doing now and what I have done in the past is going to give me the (draft) spot I deserve to go,” he said.
“Nothing to be nervous about. I am just excited to to see what I have earned myself.”
Should he get drafted and fail to come to terms with the club which selects him, O’Neill does have options: either at Oregon State University or Central Arizona College, a junior college.
“If things don’t work out in the draft, I have two great options I can go to,” he said.
High school players who are drafted can’t sign to play professionally until after they graduate in June.
“He works hard at the game, he is dedicated and committed and works at his game,” Hamilton said.
“He has a chance to have a real solid future in the game.”