Rays Prospects

Justin O’Conner Named Best Arm in Arizona Fall League

By Robbie Knopf

There has to be some alternate reality where the Tampa Bay Rays drafted Justin O’Conner as a right-handed pitcher and he became their top pitching prospect. That thought came to quite a few minds as they caught a glimpse of O’Conner’s arm. O’Conner was named the best infield arm in the Arizona Fall League, with both scouts and players recognizing just how impressive his arm strength is.

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This isn’t anything new for O’Conner. He did actually pitch in high school and touch the mid-90’s, and he also has given baserunners loads of problems as a professional. In 2014 between High-A Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery, O’Conner threw out 55% of attempted basestealers. Once he moved up to Double-A, his results were even more ridiculous–12 players tried to steal against him, and just three were successful. O’Conner not only has an excellent arm, but has the throwing mechanics to release the ball quickly and get the most out of it possible.

The funny thing about this whole thing, though, is that Justin O’Conner’s arm strength is mostly irrelevant at this point. We have known about it for a long time, and by itself, it is not enough. O’Conner has been working on the rest of his defensive game unceasingly since he went professional, and while tremendous strides have been made, he still has work ahead of him. Just as important is his offense, and luckily he impressed in that regard in the Arizona Fall League as well.

Overall in 72 plate appearances, O’Conner hit to a .303/.361/.439 line with 6 doubles, a homer, and 10 RBI. He continued to draw few walks, managing just 4 all season, but he also struck out just 6 times. While the AFL is inevitably a small sample size, we cannot help but notice that he cut down his strikeout rate from 23.1% in the regular season to 8.3% in the fall. It remains to be seen whether O’Conner can use his excellent bat speed and power potential to turn into a force at the plate as well as behind it. However, at the very least, his offense looks good enough that his defense will bring him to the major leagues.

The Tampa Bay Rays keep waiting for a solution at the catcher position. Justin O’Conner just might be it. His stint in the Arizona Fall League reaffirmed some parts about his game while relaying optimism about others, and the Rays have to be impressed with what they saw.