Pinstripe passion: Michael O'Neill, nephew of Paul O'Neill, displays intensity with Staten Island Yankees
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We'll spare you the suspense: Yes, Michael O'Neill is fiery. And yes, over the years, his batting helmets have been tossed in frustration and more than one water cooler has known his wrath.
And he is fully aware that his being drafted by the Yankees last month will only increase the regularity with which he's compared with his uncle Paul.
"We both play with a lot of passion," said Michael O'Neill, whose father, Michael, is one of the former Yankee's four brothers. "Whoever says you can't play this game with emotion is lost. You want to come through in every situation, and it eats at you when you don't."
Guess that runs in the family.
Paul O'Neill, a star rightfielder for the Yankees teams that reached the World Series five times in six years from 1996-2001, was as beloved by fans for his intensity as much as his production. Now Michael patrols the outfield clad in pinstripes . . . as a member of the Staten Island Yankees.
O'Neill, 21, was selected in the third round of the amateur draft in June and assigned to the short-season Class A squad. He led the University of Michigan in several offensive categories, including batting average (.356) and stolen bases (23), earning All-American honors.
Through 16 games for Staten Island, he is batting .286 with a .375 on-base percentage and four stolen bases.
"You see his talent on the field right away," said teammate Hector Crespo, a second baseman drafted in the 34th round. "In the clubhouse, he's a regular guy and he kind of shies away from being 'Paul O'Neill's nephew.' He wants to be his own man."
Michael, a native of Powell, Ohio, said he grew up a Yankees fan and made frequent trips to the Bronx to watch his uncle in action. But as players, they don't have much in common.
Paul was a run-producer. Michael, a 6-foot speedster, is projected as a table-setter atop the lineup. He stands almost still in the batter's box, with only a slight leg kick preceding a compact righthanded swing.
"He's got good speed and can really play some defense," Staten Island Yankees manager Justin Pope said.
O'Neill is a natural rightfielder but has played leftfield and centerfield for Staten Island. "He's fundamentally sound,'' Pope said, "and being around the game his whole life, his thought process is a little more advanced."
Michael started playing baseball at age 5 and became a standout at Olentangy Liberty High School in Powell. He was drafted by the Yankees in the 42nd round in 2010 but opted for college while rehabbing a torn labrum.
According to scouting reports, O'Neill is a solid contact hitter with good bat speed, and Pope believes he "will develop power in time." But O'Neill understands that the distance between Richmond County Bank Ballpark and Yankee Stadium isn't measured in miles. Plate discipline and pitch selection, he said, are areas in which he must "improve a lot."
But he can envision it: One day making the majors as a Yankee -- and having "O'Neill" announced as the rightfielder.
"That would mean everything," he said. "[Paul] represented the organization well and I'd be carrying on the name. But more so, it would be my childhood dream come true."