When the Yankees traded Jesus Montero during the offseason they might have thought to themselves that they didn’t have enough monster catchers in the minor leagues anymore because they went out and drafted Peter O’Brien in the 2nd round – a 6-foot-5, 225 pound beast.
Similar to Montero, O’Brien is a power hitting catcher who still has to prove that he can handle the job defensively. Half-Cuban, they are both bi-lingual as well, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end though because despite the fact that at 22 they are the same age – O’Brien has a long way to go before he is as accomplished as Montero already is.
So far his professional debut has not gone too well offensively. O’Brien is hitting just .138/.215/.172 in his first 14 games with the Short Season A-Ball Staten Island Yankees. A lot of that has to do with overcoming a wrist injury that he suffered back in April while playing with the University of Miami.
“I got hit by a pitch on April 15,” O’Brien explained to Bronx Baseball Daily. “It was a small hairline fracture. It hasn’t been 100 percent all season and it probably won’t be until the end of the season when I can finally rest it. Right now it’s at about 85 percent, 90 percent. I can’t quite do as much as I used to do.”
The Yankees were impressed enough by O’Brien’s .340/.441/.626 season in 41 games with Miami this season to draft him in the second round. However, they are probably banking on that wrist injury improving because they have seen his power drop from 20 homers his sophomore year, to 14 his junior year, and then just 10 during his senior year.
Staten Island hitting coach Ty Hawkins said that it isn’t hard to see what the Yankees liked in him though. Hawk described him as a strong kid who still has a ton of power potential.
“He’s an intelligent guy,” Hawkins said. “He understands his swing very well and he’s certainly got the potential to hit for a lot of power. His wrist might be holding him back a bit right now and I think there are some things to work on his swing that we can improve. I think he has the talent and most importantly the work ethic to be a major leaguer eventually though.”
The wrist injury has not only sapped a bit of O’Brien’s power, but it has kept him off the field for a large chunk of this season. After he returned from the injury, he was relegated to mostly DH with the occasional start at first base while still with Miami. Before the Yankees assigned him to Staten Island, he needed a stop at the Gulf Coast League to get his body in shape to catch again everyday.
Beyond just getting into shape, O’Brien will have to overcome the typical obstacles that large catchers like him have to overcome. The biggest issue is mobility. O’Brien has a cannon for an arm, but he has a tough time moving around behind the plate which hurts him when it comes to blocking balls and fielding his position.
“He’s working on his flexibility more than anything,” Staten Island manager Justin Pope said. “That’ll help him narrow his base a little bit and be a little quicker back there. He’s already starting to receive the ball better than when he first got here though.
“It’s not all bad being a big catcher,” O’Brien added. “I work really hard on my flexibility, getting lower to the ground to give a bigger target. But I feel like being so big makes me more durable and being back there every day takes it’s toll. You really take a beating sometimes.”
Not all of the adjustment to the pros has been a grind for O’Brien. For the first time in his career he is working with pitchers himself in preparing game plans and calling pitches. Something that he clearly has a passion for.
“Pitch calling was something I always wanted to do in college and now that I have that opportunity I take a lot of pride in it,” O’Brien boasted. “Studying the hitters, watching video, trying to change things up as the game goes on.”
But as the cliche goes, O’Brien is just trying to focus on one thing at a time and right now that’s getting his average up to a more respectable point. Something his manager isn’t too worried about right now.
“That’s just baseball,” Pope said. “Sometimes you go 0-for-10, 0-for-15. He’ll get there.”
Photo by Robert Pimpsner of Pinstriped Prospects.