On Baseball: Thunder's O'Brien is a marked man
MANCHESTER -- The power was turned down a bit, but Granite State baseball fans still got a taste of what makes New York Yankees prospect Peter O’Brien a player to keep an eye on.
O’Brien went 3-for-3 with three doubles, a walk, two runs scored and an RBI to lead Trenton to a 5-2 win over the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in front of 6,287 fans at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in a mid-day game Wednesday.
A Florida native, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound, right-handed hitting 24-year-old has turned some heads this season. Between Advanced-A Tampa and now 64 games with Trenton, O’Brien has hit 30 home runs and driven in 64 runs.
“Ever since he’s been here he’s given us a pretty good offensive lift,” said Trenton manager Tony Franklin. “He’s had a few home runs this year and the baseball world has focused some attention on him and that’s a good thing. It’s what’s supposed to happen. I think pitchers have found out he’s pretty dangerous when he’s in the batter’s box. He’s done well this year.”
O’Brien was drafted by the Yankees in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Miami (after starting at Bethune-Cookman). He had a solid season split between Tampa and Single-A Charleston last year, hitting .291 with 22 homers and 96 RBIs.
With Trenton this season, O’Brien is hitting .236 with 20 homers and 45 RBIs. He played in the Eastern League All-Star Game and was selected to the MLB Futures Game as well.
“It was awesome. Having a chance to go up there and meet some of those guys and playing baseball for a day in a big league stadium, taking (batting practice) there and living that life for a day was amazing,” O’Brien said of the Futures Game. “I think it’s been going well this year. I’ve gotten on myself to play a lot better this year and make my strengths stronger and my weaknesses stronger as well.”
Franklin said O’Brien has handled the increased attention with aplomb as well, even with the focus that opposing teams are now placing on him.
“He’s very humble. I don’t think for a minute he doesn’t know what’s going on and what’s happening to him. He’s figured out he’s a marked man,” Franklin said. “They pitch him tough and it’s nightly. He’s got no days off when it comes to getting in that batter’s box and being challenged. That’s part of it. You’ve got to get through that and if you can learn that, particularly at this level, you’ve got a pretty good chance of playing in the big leagues.”
O’Brien offers some versatility as well. A catcher in college, he continues to catch from time to time but has also logged time at third base, in the outfield and first base, where he played against the Fisher Cats Wednesday.
“You don’t have that kind of versatility without good athletic ability and having a good sense of what you can do on the field,” Franklin said. “He’s played the outfield and caught and both of those positions are in his future, I believe. Right now, he’s playing first base. He’s pretty comfortable.”
Being able to move around will obviously help O’Brien, especially considering that the Yankees have another top prospect (Gary Sanchez) at catcher.
“I think it’s been great. It definitely shows a lot of versatility and my athleticism. Every position I’ve played, I’ve felt very comfortable there,” O’Brien said. “The biggest thing is taking reps at every one and as long as I’m in the lineup every day and helping the team, I’m happy.”
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Slow start dooms Fisher Cats: It was a strange start to Wednesday’s game. New Hampshire starter Matt Boyd (loss, 1-4) gave up three runs in the first inning on RBI doubles from O’Brien and Tyler Austin and then there was a 15-minute delay while home plate came loose and was attended to.
“I’ve never seen that. It’s another first for me,” Fisher Cats manager Bobby Meacham said of the home plate issue. “It wasn’t screwed in. I don’t know how a plate is made other than thinking it was either nailed into something or anchored. Whatever was buried. ... the plate is glued to that and it just came loose because of the heat or something.”
Boyd settled down to end the inning after the delay and then worked a one-two-three second frame before allowing a two-run home run to Austin in the third to make it 5-0.
“He’s better than that,” Meacham said of Boyd. “He didn’t throw the ball well. He’s got to keep working. Shoot, all of us need to get better. He’s just one of us.”
New Hampshire got a solo home run from catcher Jack Murphy and a run in the ninth on a sacrifice fly from Andy Fermin that scored Murphy, who had doubled to open the inning. But that was as close as the Fisher Cats would get in the 5-2 loss.
New Hampshire (48-56) begins a series at Harrisburg tonight at 7 p.m.
Staff writer Ian Clark can be reached at email@example.com.