Scouting Yankees Prospect #30: Peter O'Brien

O'Brien's awesome power gives him reason to smile

The Yankees selected catcher Peter O'Brien in the second round of the 2012 MLB Draft the University of Miami. Known for his prodigious power potential and plus arm strength, O'Brien was considered a raw hitter and defensive backstop but one whose overall game has virtually a limitless ceiling.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Peter O'Brien
Position: Catcher
DOB: July 15, 1990
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 225
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

He followed up his first team All-ACC season that saw him hit .338 with a ridiculous .633 slugging percentage [including ten home runs] despite breaking his wrist halfway through the college season with an okay showing in Staten Island, hitting just .202 but with 18 extra-base hits in just 48 games.

"It wasn't exactly what I wanted it to be," O'Brien said of his debut season, "but I definitely learned a lot. I felt like I improved a lot of things in my game and now I know what to expect going into this year.

"I always go into something with high expectations for myself and although I didn't meet those goals, I showed what I could do and most importantly I showed some improvement everyday and towards the end of the season. I've worked really hard during the break [this offseason] and I feel really positive going into this year.

"I'm always the type of guy that has high goals; you want to go in there and lead the league in average, lead the league in home runs, RBIs, and doubles, and [with] catching you want to block every ball and throw every guy out.

"I'm hard on myself. It's not something I did in the beginning but towards the end my hitting came around a little more, especially since I didn't play too much last year [in college], and I feel like I improved on my catching a lot."

He is the first one to admit that his hitting was not up to par. Part of the reason could have been the long layoff from the wrist injury earlier in the year. Another factor, however, was simply being too aggressive.

"What I worked on as the season went on was having good rhythm, putting myself in a good position to hit, and getting on my legs more," he said. "I think the most important thing for me was just swinging at better pitches.

"When I get a good pitch to hit and I put a good swing on it, the ball is going to go a long way. If I just focus on getting a good pitch and not try to do too much, I feel like the rest will take care of itself."

One of the hardest transitions for any first-year hitter is learning to allow the game to come to them and to not push one's self out of their strengths, a lesson O'Brien says he definitely learned.

"I think it's just an over-aggressiveness thing with me," he admitted. "I'm up there trying to do too much. Knowing that not every pitcher is going to give you a pitch to hit and knowing not everyone is going to come right after you is something I'm learning.

"I'm a big power guy so they're going to try to stay away from me so there's going to be a lot of junk, so the sooner I learn that and the sooner I learn to take what they give me is the moment I started to get better and [the moment] my numbers started showing that."

Few talent observers are worried about O'Brien's offensive potential though. However, the defensive side of the ball is a different story. So big and strong, it has taken him a while to find his comfort zone behind the dish.

"I started getting into a routine everyday of stretching and doing some drills, and I started getting more comfortable towards the end of short-season but where I think it really clicked and when it really hit me is when I went to Instructs in the U.S. and Instructs in the Dominican Republic," he said.

"I feel like in Instructs everything started to click little by little and then right at the end of Instructs in the U.S. and when I got to the Dominican, that's when my catching really clicked. I was really comfortable and really confident back there, and I feel like I made a huge improvement in my catching at Instructs."

Some critics have already opined that it's just a matter of time before O'Brien is moved to the outfield or first base, a plan that could expedite his eventual big league arrival time given that his power is so huge. O'Brien though wants to, and plans to, prove those critics wrong.

"I'm open to whatever the Yankees want to do [with me] but ultimately I want to be a big league catcher," he said emphatically. "I feel back there that my leadership, my ability to run a pitching staff, and just my demeanor back there -- blocking balls, the attitude that I have -- fits perfectly as a catcher.

"I want to go out there and win everyday, and give everything I have for my team. [Catching] is part of my personality and it's not something that I can give up easily."

O'Brien and the Yankees are extremely pleased with how quickly his game has begun to take shape since his selection back in June. In fact, there are big differences in his game already.

"Honestly, defensively, I feel like it's night and day," he said proudly. "And offensively I feel like I'm a little bit more mature about my approach. I'm not trying to go out there everyday and hit everything. I'm going to take what they will give me and when they do give me something good I'm going to do some damage.

"With the little things I've learned defensively, being able to get those repetitions in and playing everyday, and work on my flexibility, I feel like I'm going to be a completely different guy back there."

It's that kind of outstanding long-term potential that makes O'Brien one of the biggest wildcards in the Yankee farm system, and he believes he has just scratched the surface of what he can do on a baseball diamond.

"I feel like the sky's the limit. I feel like there's no ceiling with me. I know what I can do and that's why I'm so hard on myself sometimes. Some say I'm my biggest critic and it might hurt me, but in the end if I work like I work and keep getting my reps in, I feel like I couldn't tell you how good I'm going to be," he concluded.

Year

Team

AVG

AB

2B

HR

RBI

R

SB

BB

SO

OBP

SLG

2011 Staten Island .202 198 8 10 32 27 0 10 61 .249 .394
2012 GCL Yankees .357 14 2 0 2 2 0 0 1 .357 .500


Batting and Power. Amazing bat speed and torque are the first words that come to mind when O'Brien is at the plate. He simply puts a big-time charge into every ball he hits. He has monstrous pull-side power and plus power to all fields in general. He has a propensity to strike out but that's more a byproduct of trying to hit the five-run home run in one swing rather than sitting on his pitch. He has shown to have the requisite patience needed to be a good hitter for average -- he just needs to settle himself down more consistently in each at-bat, think hit first up the middle, and not try to hit home runs.

Base Running and Speed. Despite his slugging ways, O'Brien is actually quite nimble and athletic for a guy his size. He won't have a big impact on the bases but he's got enough speed to steal a few bags when pitchers quickly dismiss him because of his placement in the lineup.

Defense. Despite solid athleticism for such a big catcher, O'Brien gets unfairly knocked for his overall defensive game. It's true that as a bigger catcher that maintaining his flexibility will remain a constant area of needed focus, but he shows decent blocking and receiving skills, and the arm strength is a plus big league tool. He could take some time to gain experience behind the plate but he should be able to handle the duties in serviceable fashion. O'Brien, whose mother is Cuban, also speaks fluent Spanish and that helps out immensely working with the Latin American pitchers.

Projection. There are a lot of similarities between O'Brien and current Braves' catcher/outfield prospect Evan Gattis; big-time plus big league power, the strong foundation to be a solid hitter for average, and the basic skills needed to stick at catcher if that's where the organization decides to keep him. Like Gattis, O'Brien also shows enough athleticism to move to the outfield and do it admirably if the need arises. A little Josh Willingham-like, O'Brien projects to be an offensive-minded catcher with legit power but also one who could flip-flop between catcher and outfield based on team needs since the defense behind the plate will most likely be average at best.

ETA. 2016. How quickly O'Brien moves up the minor league ladder will depend on how quickly his offensive approach gets consistent and more importantly which position he plays. He will inevitably move slower as a catcher which our ETA here denotes, but could move a lot quicker if he switches positions.

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