Shawn O’Malley, Seattle Mariner Of (Potential) Interest


The Seattle Mariners have high expectations for the 2015 season, and for the first time in what feels like forever it seems as if those expectations are largely justified. The team has a strong core in place and a good supporting cast. They’re even building up some impressive depth in the high minors, and hey, speaking of depth, what’s that you say, Jim Callis?

 So looks like the Mariners have a shiny new Shawn O’Malley. He’s a probable Tacoma Rainier, for now, but as with several other minor league signings the team has made, there’s an intriguing and immediate fit with the big league club. Especially given the presence of Willie Bloomquist.

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Wee Willie Ballgame missed the end of the season due to injury, and is no lock to be ready in time for the upcoming campaign. This, in theory, could open up a spot for a utility type. Say, a utility type with a little bit more upside than Bloomquist. A utility type who might be somewhat of an emerging talent.

A quick introduction to O’Malley: he’s freshly 27 years old and made his major league debut last year for the Los Angeles Angels. He was Tampa Bay’s fifth round pick in 2006, making it to AAA by 2012. He was bad there, and went back to AA the next season. He didn’t impress there either and headed off to Anaheim. He got an extended look in AAA and was eventually a late-season promotion. And deservedly so.

O’Malley’s always been a versatile and talented defender, a natural athlete who was said to possess the best infield defense in the Rays’ system in 2010. He’s right in his physical prime now and can pick it in the outfield, too. The defense alone could probably make him a useful 25th man in the bigs. And that’s before we take into account what he just did at the plate.

2014 was something of a breakout for O’Malley, who got a second chance to prove he could hit AAA pitching. Keep in mind nobody’s ever projected O’Malley as any kind of a hitter. His highest wRC+ mark at any significant stop in the minors was a 114 at high-A ball in 2009. Then he went to the plate 376 times for the 2014 Salt Lake Bees. He hit .330/.411/.475.

Your gut is telling you it’s a fluke. His .375 BABIP is telling you it’s a fluke. You’ve heard this story before – utility type gets some good luck on some bouncers and essentially fakes a breakout. In a few years we’ll look at his 135 wRC+ and see it as the massive outlier that it already is. Except that we aren’t a few years down the line – we’re in the present. And presently, Shawn O’Malley just had what might have been a breakout season.

You know what O’Malley did last year? Started drawing more walks. You know what else he did? Cut his strikeouts by a pretty massive margin. The BABIP boost probably had a bit to do with bouncers going his way, as it usually does, but there’s also reason to believe he was simply hitting the ball more. All those plate appearances that no longer ended with a K still had to end, you know.

There’s no way to tell for certain if a breakout is coming, but you could do a lot worse than to look for improvements in strikeouts, walks, and power. Now, O’Malley definitely didn’t start hitting for power last year, and he probably never will. But he had the other two categories locked down, and that may well spell real improvement.

It’s important, of course, that the Angels just straight up released O’Malley after the season. They had a year to see what they had, and during that year O’Malley played just about as well as any team could have reasonably expected him to. Wasn’t enough for L.A., and so they didn’t even bother to keep him around. The Angels had the front row seats, and they weren’t all that impressed.

There’s a lot working against Shawn O’Malley, Major League Baseball player. The minor league version even has a bit left to prove, probably, seeing as he’s only got one season of good offense under his belt. But that one season was this most recent season, and the improvements came in areas where improvements are most welcome. If there was ever a time to bet on his upside, it’s now. Especially since there’s reason to believe his upside might be higher than once believed.

Shawn O’Malley is most likely ticketed for AAA, where he’ll have to prove that his 2014 wasn’t a fluke. But his only competition for a spot on the Mariners’ opening day roster is Carlos Rivero and a maybe-injured Willie Bloomquist. He’s got the highest upside of the three and the strongest defensive reputation. Plus, there’s a chance he outhits the starting shortstop. Which makes him an intriguing guy to have around.

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