Piano Man on Mariners: Rookie excels at plate and keyboard
PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) On Sunday morning, Mariners newcomer Tyler O'Neill figured his Seattle teammates were intrigued by the performance he planned to give later in the day.
Not with his bat - although that was a definite possibility, because the outfielder was the Southern League MVP last year when he hit .293 with 24 home runs and 102 RBIs for Double-A Jackson.
Instead, O'Neill had another skill to show off.
He's the Piano Man for the Mariners.
Scheduled to go first in the team's rookie introductions, the power-hitting O'Neill planned to play classical music on the Yamaha keyboard in the Peoria Sports Complex clubhouse. He practiced earlier in the week - some saw him pounding the keys, but the sounds remained a mystery.
''They saw my fingers working pretty fast,'' said O'Neill, who began playing the piano when he was 7 years old. ''I'm sure some people were curious and want to hear it.''
Beyond the mini-recital, more introductions are in the future for O'Neill, a nonroster invite to Seattle camp.
The international baseball community and casual fans will get a look when he plays for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March. O'Neill, who grew up in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, is excited about the opportunity.
''It's an honor,'' he said. ''It's the best feeling a baseball player could have, to represent their country in an international tournament and it's an honor that I have the opportunity to do that.''
Seattle manager Scott Servais wished success to all the Mariners slated to play in the tournament. The list includes stars Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Felix Hernandez, and Servais hoped for one outcome above all others.
''More of the health thing,'' he said Sunday. ''I just want to see them get back here healthy.''
O'Neill, who turns 22 in June, will probably begin the 2017 season at Triple-A Tacoma. Since being drafted in the third round in 2013, O'Neill has excelled at every level or minor league ball.
In 2015, the righty-hitting corner outfielder claimed the Single-A California League home run title when he popped 32 for Bakersfield. He followed up in 2016 by leading Jackson to the league title, earning Championship Series MVP honors along the way. He capped off 2016 playing in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .448 with three home runs and nine RBIs in seven games.
O'Neill knows that making the opening day roster for the Mariners isn't likely. Seattle has plenty of outfield depth and he's never played above Double-A.
In the meantime, he's looking forward to taking the next step at Triple-A.
''It's great to move up,'' he said. ''I've heard the travel's tough, but I'm going to embrace it. Looking forward to being in the Northwest, close to home. I'm used to those weather patterns, the temperature over there. It's going to be a great year.''