SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ.— He may have been the best prospect flying under the radar for the Diamondbacks this spring until opponents saw the mighty Peter swing his bat.
The waiting this spring has been one of angst for former Reno Aces outfielder Peter O’Brien as he tries to the make the Arizona Diamondbacks roster.
The Florida native crushed the ball at spring training in Arizona, but will the Diamondbacks have a place on its crowded roster for the gifted hitter? Or will one of the best Triple-A players in 2015 return to Reno?
“The roster … hopefully it’s going pretty good. I just go day by day,” said O’Brien, a fan favorite for the Reno Aces who was first drafted by the New York Yankees in the second round of the June 2012 amateur draft. O’Brien played in the Yankees’ organization for three years before being traded to the Diamondbacks in 2014.
“Going pretty good” for the 25-year-old outfielder may be an understatement as O’Brien has ripped the ball for four home runs, including a powerful 475-foot blast off Mike Broadway of the San Francisco Giants. So far, O’Brien has 14 RBIs in 52 plate appearances and sits in the middle of the pack with a .288 batting average.
His manager from 2015, Phil Nevin, has kept an eye on O’Brien’s progress this spring.
“Pete swings the bat well,” Nevin said. “He hit two big home runs (against the White Sox), and he’s making a few adjustments to help him. The atmosphere has helped him here.”
Nevin likes what O’Brien brings to the game such as his youth, big-run power and defensive play.
Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale said O’Brien keeps improving during his time at Salt River Field.
“Peter has blossomed in front of us,” Hale said. “He is really exciting.”
Hale’s coaches have been working with O’Brien’s batting, especially with his two-strike approach.
O’Brien attributes part of his success to last year in Reno and to his strides with the Diamondbacks this spring. The second-year manager said he wants O’Brien to choke up, shorten his swing early in the count and spread out with the second strike.
The approach is similar to that of retired San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds, who approached the ball in the same manner.
“Barry Bonds did pretty well by choking up,” Hale pointed out. “He choked up by a couple of fingers and took shorter swings.”
While O’Brien has been on fire with his hitting for the past month, Hale said the toughest part of O’Brien making the Diamondbacks will be finding a position for him. Before arriving in Reno, O’Brien played catcher, and Hale believes O’Brien can also play first base, which could lead to more at bats. At spring training, O’Brien also saw playing time in left field.
The only drawback for O’Brien, said Hale, is consistency with the bat.
“Consistency is important, “Hale said. “I don’t want a guy who goes into a slump. Show us some consistency.”
Although Hale has concerns about O’Brien’s offense, he said the player’s defense is good. Those days of intense practicing and playing games in warm Arizona, though, came from the time O’Brien spent in “The Biggest Little City in the World.”
“Reno was a great spot,” O’Brien said from the team’s clubhouse at Salt River Fields. “This was the first time in my career I played with an older group of guys. It was nice to be around them for a while.”
Not only were the players supportive for each other but Reno fans also showed their appreciation.
“We had great support from the fans,” O’Brien said. “The stadium would fill up, the people would cheer. This is great for baseball.”
O’Brien said the camaraderie was great at Reno, but he also said there’s a tight knit of players at spring training. He attributes the closeness to the coaches setting goals and keeping the players focused on working on their fundamentals as a team.
O’Brien then became philosophical on his teammates and what it would mean to earn a spot on a major league team: “We are all Diamondbacks keeping all these things together.”