Braves: It’s all or nothing with Peter O’Brien

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As part of the Braves’ last-minute additions before camp this Spring, on January 22, the team handed out a minor league contract and non-roster invite to first baseman/corner outfielder Peter O’Brien — a 29-year-old who once was a highly regarded prospect in the Yankees’ and Diamondbacks’ organizations. There was a time where such a signing would’ve been cause for excitement among Braves’ fans, but since being drafted in the second-round of the 2012 draft, O’Brien has wandered back and forth between the majors and minors with little success. In 72 games across 4 big league seasons, the 6-4, 235-pound power-hitter has slashed just .209/.275/.434 — good for an 84 wRC+ and a whopping -0.2 fWAR. 

So far, the highlight of O’Brien’s pro career has come within the minors, where the Florida native has been quite an impressive player. The list of towns he has found himself over the course of his 8-year minor league career is rather long and includes places like Staten Island and Tampa while in the Yankees’ system, Reno as a member of the D’Backs’ organization, and even New Orleans and Jacksonville before a stint with the Marlins. And that’s just a small sample that doesn’t count O’Brien’s time playing in Mexico (2015 & 2017), the Dominican Republic (2019) as well as two different appearances in the Arizona Fall League (2013 & 2014). 

All of that traveling has done O’Brien some good, considering he owns a career .817 OPS so far in the minor leagues while averaging 21 home runs per year (178 total HR). His best season was perhaps a 2014 campaign as a 24-year-old in the Yankees’ system when he first rose from High-A to the Double-A level. That season O’Brien hit .271 with 34 homers and 74 RBI, on his way to nearly slugging .600 (.594). 

Which brings us to now: 2020 Spring Training. Braves’ manager Brian Snitker has inserted the journeyman in the lineup ten times so far, as O’Brien has accrued 18 at-bats for the Braves, featuring a .278/.333/.778 line that’s propped up by his 2-for-3 performance on Wednesday against the Pirates. O’Brien hit his second and third homers of the Spring in yesterday’s game and tallied three more RBI, giving him five overall. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any video of his homers from Wednesday (the games aired on Pittsburgh TV) but for anyone still unaware… O’Brien has some serious power. 

It makes perfect sense as to why O’Brien has managed two 30-home run seasons and five 20+ ones while in the minors — the guy hits absolute bombs. But like many players with O’Brien’s type of power, the strikeouts tend to pile up — illustrated by his career 36.5% K rate in the majors and 32.9% rate in the minors. So far O’Brien has mostly continued that all or nothing approach this spring with the Braves, striking out seven times (38.8 K%) and walking once, but there’s a chance that the good could potentially outweigh the bad if he could ever make some adjustments to his approach at the plate. The Braves are hoping so.

For right now, though, it’s probably better to just enjoy the success O’Brien’s currently having. He has a chance to make the Braves’ roster this coming season, and at the very least, should play a substantial role with Gwinnett down in Triple-A, where he could quickly get the call in the event of an emergency. O’Brien being a first baseman and corner outfielder doesn’t help his case for a spot on the major league team, but his incredible power provides the Braves with an excellent alternative if Freddie Freeman were to miss serious time with an injury.

Finally an off day

After playing 12-straight games, the Braves will receive a much needed day off today. This weekend will start with Friday’s 1:05 p.m. (EST) matchup with the Red Sox, airing on ESPN as part of its All-Access series this spring. Saturday and Sunday’s games are also 1:05 affairs, against the Rays and Yankees, respectively. Unfortunately, they will only be available via radio. 


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